Ever have a total dis-connect while in conversation? Perhaps you aren’t hearing each other well, or maybe one of you is speaking with a mouth full o’ pigs in a blanket. Either way, the conversation is a ring-around-the-rosy of misunderstanding. Awwkwaaard!
Here are a couple of questions I’ve received – and the tips I offered for addressing the issues.
What'd You Say?
Q. You’re in a conversation. Someone isn’t explaining their point of view clearly. Perhaps you just didn’t hear what was said. At what point do you simply nod and smile when you’ve already said “What?” a number of times and still can’t decipher what they’ve said?
A: Forget about it. If you sense you’re going to cause embarrassment or discomfort in the conversation, drop it. You know darn well when background noise, a heavy accent or a speech impediment is making things difficult. Instead of belaboring the disconnection, use this moment to change the subject or pull someone else into the conversation. Always have a couple of good conversation “redirector” questions up your sleeve – “Hey what do you suppose that artist was thinking?” [point at something on the wall], or “What would you say if that guy offered you $100 for your jacket?” Maybe these questions aren’t your style…so think of your own “traffic redirectors” for future use, before you need them.
Q: Someone says “What?” to YOU while sporting a blank or quizzical stare. You can tell it’s more than a language or audio barrier. They don’t understand what you mean…conceptually. They’re obviously not getting the point with the way you are explaining it. Do you repeat or (last resort) raise your voice in hope that they finally ‘get it’?
A: If they were hard of hearing, you’d see the hearing aid. Don’t raise your voice, rephrase your information. Too often it’s assumed that repeating yourself will magically create a new understanding where there was no understanding before. Negatory. You have to find different words to relay the same concept. CAUTION: A friend of mine often says the phrase, “Talk to me like I’m 2-years old.” While this is potentially cute & humorous, be aware that changing the way you phrase something does NOT mean dummifying it to the point of insulting someone else’s intelligence. It may simply involve changing the words you use, or painting a mental picture with metaphors or similes.
Got a great response to a continued “WHAT’D YOU SAY?” Do Tell.
Food for thought: Dealing with difficult people is a learned skill. The more challenging aspect is how to change your own habits. Be on the lookout for sandyspadaro.com‘s next post – My Advice Is King: Who’s the Jerk in This Conversation?
It’s pertinent to consider why certain people have a toxic effect on our relationships, both personal and professional. But the bottom line is that no matter the reason for behaving in a difficult manner, there are various ways to pacify a difficult situation.
Doctors of psychology suggest that we can salvage difficult relationships by learning about each other through perceptiveness, control of emotion and direct communication. Easier said than done? In the event that you don’t have time for therapy, try the following ideas for controlling your own environment and diffusing difficult situations:
- Don’t mirror body language. Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t copy or mimic each person you converse with. Should you encounter someone behaving in an aggressive or antagonistic way, you’re better off diffusing the situation by maintaining a more calm and under control demeanor.
- Never embarrass anyone – Take them aside. Nothing comes off as more aggressive or thoughtless than embarrassing someone, especially in front of others; you give the impression of being insensitive and unable to negotiate. If you must confront or address an issue directly, take someone aside and do it in a mutually respectful neutral location so as to foster common ground.
- Actively Problem Solving keeps you thinking of finding a solution rather than the problem itself, diverting the mind into acting creatively rather than angrily. This tactic also allows you to shine as the respectful concerned one, the team player. This will serve to disarm the difficult person and provide you enough time to gain control.
- Ask permission to take notes. In the worst of awkward or seemingly hopeless situations it may make sense to document the conversation “for the record”. After all, imagine the effect on your verbal sparing partner when you announce that you find their information so important that you’ll be writing it down…and by the way, what is their name and employee#? People tend to become more careful with the way they argue, threaten or instigate when they fear having to explain their behavior, or worse…having proof of it.
- Watch your body messaging – Don’t move into personal space to prove an adamant point. If you tend to let stance and mannerisms (inclusive of the hands) take control when you speak, be sure to control what your action says. An aggressive form of communication can turn into a negotiation faux pas.
- Use a mediator. Whether at the office or sitting around a table of friends, asking for an unbiased opinion from a third party not only assists in squelching an impasse, but forces both parties to step outside of emotion and into a compromise.
- Plan your day to limit negative people. It’s about taking control of your schedule, not the difficult people. While it’s true that you likely can’t avoid Monday morning’s meeting with your boss, it might be wise, when and if you can control it, NOT to schedule lunch with your bag-o’downers-best-buddy on the same day. Limit your exposure to difficult people in a short timeframe, wherever you can since lengthy exposure to negativity threatens the survival of your positive attitude.
- Above all, show respect. Listen. There is no better diffuser of difficult traits than being heard and feeling understood. Most heated situations and strained relationships stem from the lack of an open connection. By human instinct, once we are “heard” we are less defensive and can better focus on the issue at hand.
Clearly not all situations will be caused by a lack of communication or solved by diffusing difficult or toxic types. It’s our responsibility to remember four essential tidbits of knowledge; Don’t take it personally, Remember that you ARE good at your job/life, accept that you will never please everyone, and be responsible for your own actions.