You already know that when you address an interpersonal difficulty with someone, there’s a good chance that the other party will get defensive. Yes, I’m talking about those times where you feel that they ‘wronged’ you in some way and you’ve mustered up the courage to deal with it directly.
Chances are that you have a few scars to show for past attempts that did not go the way you wanted them to go.
Here are two strategies that will significantly decrease the chances that the other person will get defensive. He or she will remain open to hearing your point of view, and respond constructively to your initiative:
Strategy No. 1: Own your contribution.
Oh how quick we are to assign blame! have you noticed how we always assume that the other person is wrong whereas we (of course) are right?
However, in most situations, both parties had done something that contributed to the current problem. For example, if you’re upset that your colleague (or an employee who reports to you) is habitually late in living up to their commitment, your contribution is that you procrastinated and did not act on the matter much earlier. Or, if you think that the other person did not prepare things as you had expected, it may be that you were not as crystal clear about your expectations as you should have been.
If you don’t own your contribution openly and clearly, the other person is going to get immediately defensive. After all, why shouldn’t they? From their perspective, they feel betrayed and unfairly judged, because they know exactly what you did that contributed to the current situation, for which you are now suddenly blaming them!
Here’s how ‘owning your contribution’ might sound:
“… I want to begin by acknowledging my own contribution to this outcome. Recently, I have allowed the proofs to be submitted in a last-minute fashion and never commented on the need to have them ready at least 48 hours before they were to go out. In doing so, I gave the impression that it was okay to work on the newsletter in a last-minute fashion, which naturally meant that you had the right to believe that this was okay. I take full responsibility for not letting you know that in fact this was not acceptable and apologize for that.”
Strategy No. 2: Assign Benevolent Intentions
No matter how wronged you feel, chances are that the other person did not consciously intend to harm you. If you clearly let them know that you think that they had no mal-intent, they will see that you’re coming from a place of collaboration and generosity of spirit. This will significantly reduce their need to be defensive.
So when you approach the other person to address your concern, here’s how this strategy might sound in action: “knowing you, I’m pretty sure that when you said that my idea would never work, you did not intend to offend or upset me….”, or, “I know that not including me in the list of invitees to that meeting was not intended to exclude me and that in all likelihood it as an oversight”.
Next time you have a ‘sticky situation’, try these strategies. Then reflect on how well they’ve worked (and why) – so that you can do even better the next time around.
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