I overheard a couple arguing on the street the other day. Actually, she was arguing at him, saying “Why can’t you x and y,” and getting more and more agitated. I felt for her: she was frustrated, in love, trying to find common ground, yet her approach was hitting a solid brick wall. Nonetheless she kept at it.
It is difficult to communicate clearly and empathetically, especially while in the heat of the moment.
As a former marketer, I learned the importance of understanding varying target audiences and speaking with them in a respectful and meaningful way. Why don’t we treat our interpersonal relationships similarly?
Transparently, I have struggled with this myself both personally and professionally, and to this day I am still fine tuning the way I communicate.
In my advertising days as an effective account manager, the ability to translate conversations between clients, creatives, and producers (among others) was key to my success. Each character’s mindset had a different filter and it was critical to interpret messages in a tailored way order to relate to them individually.
In sales training, “DISC” (dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness) assessments are used to gain a common language to better sell.
Understanding how someone responds to a direct vs collaborative approach will really help shape a conversation.
The same is true in all relationships. Looking back at how I sometimes communicated in different situations, I can almost laugh. Instead of getting worked up, I wish I had initiated a productive, interactive conversation. Saying, for example, “Hey, I care about you, and when you do xyz, it says abc to me. Do you mean to send that message?” That is a whole different approach than using an accusatory tone or wanting to be “right”!
Because when I’m right, what does that make you? Yeah, it makes you wrong, and what kind of positive interaction can you expect when the conversation is foundationally based on right and wrong positions?
One technique I learned while co-teaching a “strategy for account managers” class for the 4A’s was to simply start a sentence with “you’re right.” Ok, in truth, you may not think the person actually right, however acknowledging you’ve heard him/her allows for a more fruitful conversation. This really works!
You can also try some of the below suggestions to handle tricky exchanges:
- Timing is critical. Is the person open and rested? Or is he/she hangry, had a rough day, rushed or tired? Just because the discussion is a priority for you, doesn’t mean it has to happen immediately. Be smart about when you approach a touchy topic.
- The “where” is also vital. No texting please! Honestly what good ever came out of an important conversation via text when the other person may be distracted and the words likely to be misinterpreted. That goes for mail too! Cousin Bobby’s wedding or in front of your colleague’s discerning boss? Heck no! Be conscientious and considerate about the location you choose.
- Pay attention to physical cues. If someone is scowling or their arms folded tight, he/she is not likely going to be receptive to what you’re saying. Adjust!
- Think through the main point you want to convey. Is every single detail really necessary? Consider journaling or just writing down your thoughts in advance to get any anger or nit-picking out of your heart so you can have a succinct, productive, respectful and caring interaction.
- Agree to disagree. You can’t agree on everything, but if you can agree to disagree and move on, you will both avoid stalemates and understand each other better.
- Steer clear of “buts” and hot buttons. If someone has taken the time to address an issue with you, he/she likely is doing so in order to improve your relationship. Be grateful! The alternative is shutting down and drifting apart. Use language like “yes and” and ask questions if you’re not clear on the issue.
Importantly, listen, use courteous language, and reward each other for having a useful and positive “argument.” Changing the way you communicate is hard, and strides toward improvement must be celebrated! You may even learn something new about each other, whether it a friend, relative or co-worker.
Marjorie, Chief MOJO Maker™