Rash words can have nasty effects

Pat was fed up. She stormed into her boss's office and said, "I want to know why I haven't been given the raise you promised! I work harder than everybody else and it's obvious you really don't care!"

Tom blew up at his employee when he came in late for the third time in two weeks, "I've had it! Who do you think you are coming in whenever you feel like it?"

Jacks co-worker is a pain; always borrowing his supplies and hogging the computer they share. Last week, Jack lost his patience and gave him a piece of his mind. Now his co-worker won't speak to him.

How many times have you wondered how a situation would have turned out if only you had chosen your words more carefully? In the heat of the moment, we speak from the heart-not the head. Unfortunately, when the other person is our boss, employee, or peer, rash words can have nasty ramifications.

"If only I hadn't said..." will be a self-recrimination of the past, if you find tactful ways to say things before your mind is blind with rage. It's helpful to have a few handy phrases that can be inserted whenever your vocabulary starts to slip into the red-letter zone.

The key is to use language that is tempered, neutral and respectful. The right word choice can turn a potentially destructive, defensive fight into an adult discussion that gets results and maintains relationships.

Here are some to consider. You may even want to save them and refer to them the next time you feel yourself start to boil.

1.      Only describe the other person's behavior, don't jump to conclusions about why they are doing it. Let them explain instead of passing judgment before they can get a word out.

Tom's comment implied that his employee intentionally came in late because he thought he was "above" the rules and could push Jack around. Imagine how defensive his employee would become.

Instead, Tom should have said, "You've come in late three times in the last two weeks. What's the problem?"

2.      Disclose your own feelings about the matter.

Most of us aren't used to disclosing our feelings. We feel vulnerable and weak if we admit that someone else's behavior has upset or hurt us - so we counter-attack to protect ourselves. However, disclosing how you feel can be highly effective because it forces the offender to deal with the outcome of his or her actions.

Pat may have had more luck if she had said this to her boss: "I expected a raise six months ago and it hasn't come. It makes me wonder if I'm doing something wrong that I don't know about. I also feel unappreciated and that's de-motivating for me."

3.      If you disagree with someone, try saying something such as, "I have a problem with this situation..." instead of, "You're the problem..."

When you can keep the attention on the problem rather than the person, defensiveness will be minimized and the discussion will move toward solutions.

4.      Begin by asking if you are doing something that is causing the problem. When you take the first step, it opens the door for the other person to admit they may also be at fault. Your willingness to take responsibility for part of the problem will make you a better team player.

Things might have gone better for Jack if he had approached his co-worker and said, "I know it's hard for both of us to share this computer and sometimes I get frustrated because I can't get on it when I need to. Have I been considerate of your needs and schedule?" This will open the conversation and allow Jack to ask for what he needs.

5.      When you start to feel defensive, ask for more feedback instead of defending your position.

If your boss, employee, or peer complains to you about your behavior, fight the temptation to go for their throat. Instead, ask for more details. In a calm voice, ask them for detailed examples of your transgressions and listen carefully. People who can listen open-mindedly about their own weaknesses are able to deal with them and keep them from becoming bigger career liabilities.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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