Friday, July 30, 2010

He refuses to communicate.

Question: My boyfriend and I had a big fight a week ago, and since then he's not been returning my email or phone calls and it's driving me crazy. How can you communicate with someone who refuses to communicate? Do I need to go round there and confront him?

Answer: The word "confront" makes me wonder if you'd be going round there to "give him a piece of your mind" - in other words to try and get him to see the error of his ways, to see what he's doing wrong. I don't have much faith that this approach would give you what you're wanting, which I'm guessing is some satisfying communication about what happened recently, and renewed connection and clarity about your relationship.

I recommend sitting down with a friend who can hear you out without taking sides. Get very clear not just on what you're thinking, but on how you feel and what you want from your next conversation with him, and what that will give you if you get it.

For example, if you're angry and thinking you want an apology, get clear what that will give you. Do you want an apology because it will give you trust that your boyfriend cares, or that he understands what was painful for you in your recent fight.

When you feel ready, and again working with a friend, you can take the radical step of trying to guess what your boyfriend might be wanting right now, what that will give him, and how he's feeling. I think this is radical because it's counter-intuitive to try this, and perhaps hard to trust the value of it, and yet for me it's a sign of great care about another person.

For example, is he perhaps feeling anger or pain about things said in the fight, and wanting respect for his point of view? Does he want this respect because it allows him to be relaxed and to trust people when he gets respect? You're just guessing, but do any of these guesses help you to connect more with the love you feel for him? The point of the guessing is to connect with the human being, rather than getting caught up in who's right and who's wrong.

Repeat this process until you feel like you've really connected to what you want, and really felt some shift in terms of seeing the humanity of your boyfriend. When you next try to reach him, talk about what you got in touch with about yourself, no blame or criticism, just honesty about what you're wanting, and what that will give you. And ask him if the things you're guessing about him are accurate. Show him that you're interested.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Am I too emotional at work?

Question: My boss says I’m too emotionally volatile and that this is the one obstacle preventing him promoting me. It’s mainly to do with a few occasions when he totally undermined me in meetings with clients. I stayed calm in front of our clients, but then pretty much let my boss have it after the meetings. I’m good at my job and I say what I think. My boss even admitted he saw my point on these occasions. But… I don’t want this reputation. What do you suggest?

Answer: My guess is that you expressed some very strongly worded language of blame and criticism. After all, you think he did something wrong, so you told him. However, few people enjoy hearing blame and criticism, so your boss was probably struggling to hang in there and listen to your point of view. When he says you’re too volatile he’s joining you in the criticism game, because, well, it’s a popular game. You can step out of the game any time, however.

Blame and criticism are your thoughts on what another person is doing wrong. You will become a more powerful communicator if you learn to “tell it like it is” without without expressing those thoughts. For starters, mention the other person or their actions only in strict observation language. For example:

“Boss, can we talk about the moment when you said to the client ‘I can throw in the customer service package at no extra charge’.” There’s no blame or criticism here, just an observation about the words spoken by your boss.

Now, describe how you were affected, or how you see the implications. For example:

“I was shocked, because my understanding was we were to give no further cost-free incentives. I told the client this in earlier talks. I’m concerned that the trust I’ve established with them will be undermined. Can you understand my concern?”

This is a statement about you — you’re still speaking your mind. “Telling it like it is” does not mean delivering unfiltered blame and criticism, it means telling the truth. So you tell the truth about your concerns. Be succinct. Use 40 words or less if you can manage it, and certainly stay under a minute no matter what. Any more and the other person will probably start putting more energy into their defense or “rebuttal” than listening to your words.

Complete with an immediate request for a response from your boss. In a potentially tense conversation like this you want to keep inviting the other person to respond, you want to stay current with whether they’re understanding you, and how they’re responding.
So, what about the “emotional volatility.” Well, you’ll notice that to speak in the way I’m suggesting would require you to take a few breaths. (We’re much quicker to come up blame and criticism than true words about ourselves.) If after a few breaths you still don’t feel ready to use the approach I’m suggesting, I’d say it’s better for you to take some more breaths rather than to start speaking. My prediction is that you will no longer be described as “emotionally volatile” with this approach.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I have no time for your opinions

Question: My new boss is initiating a change in the software we use for email, calendar, project flow etc. which will affect everyone in our team. My old boss gave me the job of researching this same issue before he took off for greener pastures. Yesterday my new boss called a meeting to inform us of his decision about the new software. Based on my research I think he’s missing some important facts and rushing into the decision, but when I tried to raise this he said “I have no time for your opinions right now, we just need to move forward.” That shut me down at the time, but I still want to say something to him about it…

Answer: I want you to have the opportunity to raise your concerns, so the next thing I’m going to say may seem counter-intuitive. Have you stopped to wonder what he’s “up to.” I don’t mean analysis of his psychology, nor am I assuming he has sneaky, ulterior motives. I just mean, what’s motivating him to speak, and to speak like that.

In this case I’d say your boss feels pressure to get “up to speed,” and is looking for an easy decision making process, and for support. You may guess some different motivations, but either way, just giving attention to this question is likely to help you move past any “enemy image” thoughts you’re having about him (”control freak,” “jerk” etc.).

Meanwhile I’m guessing you want some respect for the expertise you’ve developed through your research, and I bet you also want to make sure the software chosen is of maximum benefit to you and your co-workers.

OK, so now how do you speak up in a way that aims at a satisfactory outcome for you both?

“Boss I really want to support you in reaching a quick decision, and at the same time I’m seriously concerned that the solution you proposed will not best serve team efficiency, and will actually cause a lot of headaches for us all. I’m nervous about speaking up but if I ignore my opinion on this I think I’ll regret it. Is there any time today when you could give me 10 minutes to lay out my concerns to you?”

This will take under 30 seconds to say and makes reference both to your own needs and to needs that you guess he has. And if he says, once again, that he has “No time for your opinions” ….

“I’m speaking up in the hopes of avoiding a situation where your time, and mine, will get more crunched as a result of software that’s not best suited to our needs. Is there anything I could do today that would support you in sparing ten minutes to hear my concerns.”
However it goes, after this conversation be ready to take a walk around the block with a co-worker or on the phone to a friend - choose someone who can hear you without taking sides. It takes courage to speak up and you may need to calm the adrenalin afterwards.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why am I opening my mouth?

Question: I've been reprimanded by my boss a few times lately for saying inappropriate things to clients. I'm maybe just making conversation before a meeting starts, or making jokes at business lunches, then later I hear that someone got really offended and has requested that I be taken off the project. The problem is, I don't know when I'm about to say something offensive to someone, and I don't even know when I have done so, so how can I change it?

Answer: It's my belief that everything we do and say arises from some inner motivation. I'm saying nothing particularly revolutionary here. Think about it - if you get up from your couch and walk to the fridge it's because you're motivated by a need for food, or because you're planning on going to the grocery store and need some clarity about what you want to buy. When you crack a joke at a business meeting you're motivated by the desire to create a connection, or to put people at ease, or just to enjoy a fun moment with other people.

Much of the time it doesn't seem to make that much difference whether we're conscious of our inner motivations or not. However, if I ever sense tension creeping into a conversation, or if I'm in a professional setting, I want to remain very aware of my motivations every time I open my mouth. Just like you switch on the spell-checker before sending out a professional email, I switch on my "motivation checker" before speaking in a business context, or in a tense conversation. Before speaking I ask myself "Why am I opening my mouth?"

Let's take an example. You're chatting with a client and you're about to say "I never use the Google search engine because I don't like their privacy practices." It's just an opinion, right? It's based on something you've read or seen.... Sure, and it's just one of any number of things you could be saying at this moment. What's motivation you to say this? Are you hoping to influence or to educate your client? Are you raising an issue which may be relevant to your business together? Do you want to be known as someone with a strong sense of individuality, or known for how much you value privacy?

This self-check can be used at home just as much as at work. It can become second nature and take only a matter of a few seconds or less, while saving you untold time and energy. We probably all have examples of things we've said unconsciously which resulted in damage to a relationship which took a very long time to mend. Once you've connected with your underlying motivation you may often find that you reword what you're about to say, or find a different thing to say which more directly or effectively conveys what you want, or is more likely to achieve whatever you're motivated to achieve.

Monday, May 10, 2010

“I’m just joking around”

Question: In my job I feel like there’s a culture of gossip, disrespect, and put-downs. Sometimes it’s played off as “just a joke,” but to me it’s not very funny. I don’t want to be the boring, super-serious co-worker, but I don’t want to put up with unfunny put-downs either. What do I do? Thanks, Jackie.

Answer: Firstly, if you refrain from gossip and from making jokes at the expense of others, you’re no longer contributing to that issue. As for respect, it is possible, though perhaps scary, to meet others with honesty, transparency, and with respect, even if their actions strike you as “disrespectful.” In other words you don’t have to wait for the other person to lead with respect, you can take a leadership role and go first, without getting caught up on whether they “deserve” your respect or not.

For example:

Your co-worker: "Jackie's going to be the weakest link on this project..."

You: “I’m starting to get the feeling that you have very little respect for me and my work. If that’s true I’d love to find out from you what it would take for us start building a respectful working relationship. Is that something you would be wiling to discuss?”

Your co-worker: “Don’t be so serious, I’m just joking around.”

You: “I’ve heard you say that before, and yet when I hear you say “Jackie’s being the weakest link again” I can’t shake the feeling that you have a genuine grievance. So I’d like to check now, is there anything at all about the way I work that you don’t like?”

This is an invitation to the other person to step into a position of greater integrity, which they will probably actually prefer, even though it may be scary for them to do it. Of course, you’re inviting criticism, but guess what, if the criticism is already there it’s better to get it out in the open so you can do something about it.

You probably won’t fix a situation like this in three quick exchanges, it will take persistence, so here are a few more ideas…

Your co-worker: “No, like I said, I’m just kidding around.”

You: “OK. Well if anything about how I work starts to bother you would you be willing to let me know immediately.”

Your co-worker: “Er…..sure.”

or you could try....

You: “I’m still finding it hard to believe that there’s nothing I do that bothers you, when I think about the comments you’ve made. It would help me to shake that idea if you could tell me about something I’ve done that was of benefit to you.”

This is not fishing for compliments. You’re actually continuing to do a reality check, treating the other person with respect, and seeking a deeper understanding about your working relationship with them.

Monday, April 26, 2010

“That’s not what I said!”

Question: My wife and I get into these insane fights where she totally makes stuff up that I said, then gets upset because I don’t agree with her memory of things. How do you deal with it when someone just makes stuff up?

Answer: This sounds pretty frustrating for you, to find you have such a different recollection of events to your wife. And, of course, if I spoke to your wife she would insist that it is your memory that’s at fault, not hers. Or she might say you’re changing the facts to support your position, and you might say the same of her.

Let’s consider this. Your wife says you agree to spend this Thursday evening with her, and you say you never made any such agreement. You’re convinced she’s “wrong” and she’s convinced she’s “right.” Why does it matter to you that she agrees with your version of reality? If she suddenly starts saying sincerely “You know, you’re right, I remembered incorrectly,” what would that give you that’s valuable to you?

If you say “Now she’s being honest” then that might contribute to your level of trust in her. It might also give you a sense of trust in your own memory, or a sense of actually “living on the same planet” as your wife — having the same shared perceptions and recollections of reality.
Similarly, if her version is so different to yours, you might be very exasperated by the quality of communication you experience, and the level of ease the two of you have in organizing your lives together harmoniously.

Whatever your answers are to my question, I would try conveying that to your wife, rather than trying to convince her that she’s wrong. Include how you feel with things as they currently are, and do your best to simply describe your experience and desires without any blame, criticism, or demands (since I’m guessing you’ve already tried all those with limited success).

For example:

You: “I’m so exasperated right now that you remember me saying something that I’m totally sure I did not say. We seem to remember things differently way more often than I’d like, and I’d love us to somehow change this. How do you feel hearing me say this?”

Your wife: “Don’t blame me, you’re the one who’s forgetting things all the time and changing your plans without telling me.”

You: “I have blamed you in the past, so I can see why you’d hear what I said that way. Right now I’m trying to do something different….”

Your wife: “It’s just so annoying that you don’t remember things.”

You: “I’m annoyed too, because I really want us to communicate in a way where we end up on the same page about events, plans and decisions. Can we talk about what we can do differently to make it less likely that this happens again?”

It may take a while to get there, but if you give up on trying to prove your wife wrong, I think she’ll notice soon enough, and join you in figuring out what can be changed. Someone has to take the lead, so don’t be surprised if your wife continues with the “Who’s right/who’s wrong” thinking for a while if that’s how you’ve communicated up until now.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

They always say the "right thing"!

Question: I've been around some people who seem to always know what to say. They respond with some mixture of wisdom, compassion, courage, strength, and assertiveness - and seem to intuitively know what mixture of these qualities is needed. Are people just naturally that way...or what's the trick?

My answer: I've had the experience of simply "riding" my intuition when communicating, and being very satisfied with the result. It's not totally reliable though, so I see the communication work I do as providing myself and others with "training wheels" to help with communication when the intuition dries up, or when what I'm intuitively drawn to say seems to be making things worse. Training wheels are also known as "stabilizers" in the UK - and what I'm describing here can certainly contribute to my sense of stability, even when navigating through difficult conversations.

So, riding with the "training wheels" means I limit myself to thinking, speaking, and asking about just four areas of focus.

* What am I hearing/seeing right now? What did the other person actually just say or do - can I get clear on what I'm actually observing separate from my thoughts and judgments about what's happening?
* What's the impact on me of what I'm hearing/seeing? How am I feeling?
* What do I want, fundamentally, at this moment, or in this conversation?
* What am I moved to do or say? What do I want to ask the other person to do, or to tell me?

Focusing moment by moment on these four areas of inquiry usually helps me to communicate. And if I want to take this a step further towards really connecting with the other person and moving towards mutually satisfying communication - I will ask myself the same four questions about them too, repeatedly, as the conversation proceeds. What are they observing? What's the impact on them? What do they fundamentally want? What would they like to hear from me or ask of me? You'll see these basic questions at play throughout this blog.