You swear you’re prepared to speak calmly and professionally to a coworker you believe is intentionally sabotaging you. But the second you open your mouth to say something, BAM! you’re practically yelling at him! The first moments of an encounter set the stage for the entire conversation and you know you’ve blown it. But how can you control your aggression?
Use advice from the great book, “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (McGraw-Hill, 2002.)
Defensive emotions once engaged are difficult to turn off. And the more defensive you are the more convinced you are that you’re right, giving more fuel to your emotions. If you’ve blown it you may want to apologize and arrange to talk later after you privately take responsibility for your emotions. Here’s how.
Last week I wrote about the book’s advice to identify the other person’s behavior and ask yourself why s/he is behaving that way. Your answer is what actually causes your emotions, not the other person’s behavior. It’s vital to understand this so you can move beyond your defensiveness.
For example, you and I are working on a project together. I discover that you’ve met privately with our boss. Plus, when we both attend meetings you “hog” the time, making it seem like you’re in charge of the project, which you’re not.
“Why” do I think you’re hogging the limelight and excluding me from meetings? My answer: “Because you want all of the credit.” Doesn’t this assumption fuel my anger and resentment?
But just because I believe this doesn’t make it true. If my “why” answer is defensive and judgmental, which it is, I need to identify your behaviors and the facts of the situation before speaking to you.
* Fact/behavior: you had two meetings with the boss that I wasn’t notified of so couldn’t attend. You didn’t inform me later either.
* Fact/behavior: when we presented our idea together you spoke for several minutes while I spoke far less.
Separating the facts and your behaviors from my assumption that you want all of the credit balances me emotionally. I feel more in the driver’s seat of my own life, which decreases my stress therefore my defensiveness. I can assertively speak to you by using this formula:
1. State the facts from my point of view;
2. My interpretation of their meaning;
3. How I feel about it;
4. Ask if I understand correctly.
E.g., “Tom, you didn’t inform me of the meetings you had privately with the boss. This makes me think excluding me was intentional. I felt resentment and was hurt by this. Was I purposefully excluded and if so, why?”
Substituting my assumptions (“hogging” and “wanting all the credit”) with the facts of the situation including your behavior plus using this formula to address my concerns can help balance me so I’m less likely to become instantly defensive.
Next week we’ll look at additional ideas to improve your ability to handle your “crucial conversations.”
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.