You are currently browsing posts tagged with demanding

The Tone of Our Discourse

§ January 16th, 2011 § Filed under communication, training, writing § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , § 6 Comments

“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do, it is important for us to pause a moment and make sure we are talking to each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”  – Barack Obama

Last month, I listed some communication resolutions for 2011. Apparently I don’t have a widespread enough audience yet to reach the entire country. I have listened to friends, acquaintances, newscasters, and pundits explain what happened in Tucson and what the root causes of the problem are. I agree with the President who said that a lack of civility did not cause this tragedy.

The issue of our country’s discourse is a two-pronged one. There is a legal standard. Free speech is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. That means that you have the right to say anything you want. However, throughout history our courts have limited that right. You do not have the right to incite violence. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote:  “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

I am not a fan of Sarah Palin, and I find her response to her perceived attack over this tragedy self-centered and disappointing at best. However, I will defend to my death her right to place gun-site type targets over a map of Congressional districts. I will even defend her right to say things like “Don’t retreat. Reload!”

We now have people who believe that the country is on fire and they need to scream to make sure we all feel the same fear.  I get it. There are those who believe that the country is sliding into socialism or fascism. They are tired of being politically correct.  They are genuinely afraid of what will happen if the health care bill continues to be enacted.  I defend their legal right to be as strident and loud and discourteous as they want.

I do wish, however, they would consider the practical aspect to all this rhetoric. Consider the scenario in the Holmes quote. If you are in a theater that truly is on fire, do you want someone yelling “Fire”? Or would you prefer someone who calmly explains that there is a danger and that you should quickly proceed to the nearest exit?

The second prong is a decency standard.  So much has been said these last few days about the tone in this country. Yes, we all have the legal right to be offensive.  However, just because we have the right to be rude doesn’t mean we should be.

When I hear people say they are “tired of being politically correct,” what I hear is that those people are tired of being polite and do not care if they offend. What is wrong with being more inclusive? Why can’t we use the filters we have been given?

We need to find ways to put across our thoughts and ideas, even those that are passionately held, without insulting others. Engaging our brains before we open our mouths is still sound advice.

So I will repeat my final resolution from last month: resolve to be kinder. As President Obama said in Tucson, “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”


§ November 4th, 2010 § Filed under communication, marketing, small business, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , § 1 Comment

“Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.”- Sue Patton Thoele

Over the past ten months, I have written about all sorts of problems and issues in communication. This month’s topic is the most important communication skill anyone can develop – listening. In fact, I found so many quotations about listening, it was hard to choose, so I’m going to use a few.

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

We are a population of non-listeners. Even those who are moderately skilled at listening have to work at it. How often have you “listened” to someone while planning what your response will be? How often has your mind strayed? How often have you paid more attention to your surroundings than to the person in front of you?

Here is an exercise to increase your listening skills. The next time your spouse, child, friend or coworker starts talking, resist the temptation to interrupt. Respond with an appropriate nod or shake of your head, or murmur “Hmm” or “Oh.” Let the person complete his or her thoughts. When he or she takes a breath, look thoughtful and count to ten before responding to make sure the person is finished. If the person does not speak again in those ten seconds, carry on the conversation as usual. If the person starts to talk again, stay quiet. In the next pause, count to ten again. I know this will feel awkward at first, but try it. If the person you are talking to notices a difference, tell him or her that you are improving your listening skills.

“If you spend more time asking appropriate questions rather than giving answers or opinions, your listening skills will increase” – Brian Koslow

Listening well is a skill that can be learned. Like any other skill, improvement takes practice. Learning to ask questions that help you to understand what the speaker means will improve your listening skills, but will also help create rapport with the speaker. Your questions let the speaker know that you value what he or she has said, that you seek to understand his or her point. In doing the above “counting to ten” exercise, when the person has stopped talking, ask some clarifying questions. These questions might start with phrases like

  • “It appears as if…”
  • “You feel…”
  • “It seems like…”
  • “As I understand it, you sound…”
  • “If I hear you correctly, you’d like…”

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation” – Chinese Proverbs

Creating that rapport and letting the speaker know that you are paying attention is the first step toward true communication. It is also a first step toward agreement. If you can truly understand what the other person is thinking, you may have a chance to give him or her insight into your viewpoint.

When we live in such a divided country, it is critical that we understand what others are saying. On this post-election day, I’ll leave you with this one.

“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.” – Kenneth A. Wells

Try these exercises at your Thanksgiving Day table. It might make the whole day more enjoyable. Happy Thanksgiving!

Dealing with the Demanders

§ July 5th, 2010 § Filed under communication, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

At the beginning of the year, I asked you for the communication problems you face. One of my readers explained her biggest issue:

What drives me crazy? — Overly demanding and loud people (the ME, ME. ME group) who “muscle” and steam-roll over others with verbal, and sometimes even physical, intimidation.

I can certainly relate to this concern. I think all of us have coworkers, clients, friends, or family members who act this way.

Ask yourself if this demanding person is always like this. Or is this a one-time occurrence that may have been caused by a particular situation that caused the person to act out of character? I know I have had my own moments of being verbally intimidating, and have regretted it afterward (see my September 2007 issue.) If the outburst is out of character, give the person the benefit of the doubt. Know that all of us have our moments that usually have nothing to do with the people we are with, but more to do with our own feelings of vulnerability or fear.

You can’t change them.

If this aggressive attitude is a consistent behavior, I have some advice. The only person you can change is yourself.  There is no way to change the “overly demanding and loud people.”  But you can change the way you react to the intimidation.

If you find that you are unable to adjust to these people, find ways to avoid them. I have a quick solution if the person is a client or a friend. Drop them. I have eliminated people from my life and from my business if they have a tendency to yell or verbally abuse me. I don’t need mean friends or difficult clients.

I had a recent situation with a woman who works for one of my clients. She needed to check with me to make some changes to a project that the client and I had worked on. Instead of creating some sort of rapport first, she went into a demanding attitude – on my voice mail. I called back and asked questions, ignoring the rudeness. She had misinterpreted something my client had told her, and assumed that I had not done what was asked.  I was firm in correcting the misunderstanding, but had to hold back my immediate reaction to be defensive and antagonistic myself. I calmly suggested that we get the client on the phone as well. She is still snippy with me, but I refuse to react to it. If her attitude continues, I will discuss the problem directly with the client, and if there is no change, I will suggest that the client go elsewhere for service.

Family and coworkers are more difficult.

If the person is a coworker or a family member, the solution is a bit more difficult. Continue to remind yourself that the person’s behavior is probably not directed at you personally.  As with the passive-aggressive types we discussed in April, the people who find it necessary to be pushy usually have issues they are dealing with. You don’t need to be a psychologist to know that you are not responsible for other people’s personal issues.

Confront the behavior.

My favorite way of opening up the conversation is to call the person on his or her attitude, gently. “I can sense that you are upset. What can I do to alleviate your concern?” or “I may be able to resolve this problem if you can provide me with the details of what you think is wrong.”

You may also be able to accomplish some success by confronting the person when he or she is not being intimidating. Many counselors suggest that you describe the issue in terms of your own feelings, “When you talk to me the way you did yesterday at the meeting, I feel defensive.” I have not found that approach particularly helpful. I find ignoring the behavior or looking at the person as if he or she is acting like a fool much more effective. I also have been known to make eye contact with the person and say simply and very calmly, “I will not discuss this matter until you stop yelling.” Then I walk away. I do not allow additional discussion until the person has calmed down.

Visualize a positive outcome.

The other technique I have used successfully is to visualize an encounter with the person in detail. Then I control the visualization so that I see myself talking calmly to the person, and the person calming down and becoming more reasonable. I’m not sure why this works so well, but I imagine that it rehearses me enough, so that I do not react badly and exacerbate the situation.

The aggressive and abusive types anticipate that you will either fight back or roll over. Do neither. Calmly state your response and react to the comments, not the personal attack. Let the person know that the abusive behavior is not productive.

Remember that you always have control over your own reactions. And often, when you step away from the conflict, it immediately subsides.

If you have communication issues you would like me to address, post a comment here, use the contact page, or email me directly.