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Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Monopolizing a Conversation is a Show of Arrogance

     You've likely been in a conversation or at least overheard a conversation where one person talked and talked and talked or continuously interjected their opinion at every breath taken by the other side.  You've probably been in a training class and heard one particular participant constantly have something to say every time the facilitator asked a question or tried to move on with a point in the training.  You found it annoying and no doubt so did the other people around you.  Yet, the individual seems clueless that they are monopolizing the discussion.  Everybody in the room wants to say, "Just shut up already!"
     Facilitators like myself have to work harder in these instances to maintain control of the room.  We know that the other participants are looking to us to keep order so that they can get something out of the precious time they're spending in a training class--sometimes classes they've paid for themselves.  Out of politeness, most people--whether a trainer or just the person who's on the other side of the conversation with a monopolizer--feel like they have to use tricks to quiet the person or to overcome their assertiveness.  This takes a lot of mental energy while still trying to concentrate on what we're teaching.  Therefore, it becomes frustrating.  But rather than have us go through psychological manipulation to protect the monopolizer's feelings, the monopolizer needs to understand this one thing:  your domination of any verbal exchange is a display of arrogance.  Yes, arrogance.  That might seem harsh, but here's what I mean.
     A person who constantly offers their opinion unsolicited is acting as if they have all the answers.  They are the proverbial "know-it-all".  If this could be you, listen up.  Any time you feel you should assert your views when no one has asked you, then you are acting like everyone else wants to hear what you have to say.  You believe that your views are important above everyone else's.  In fact, you show it when you hardly give anyone else a chance to speak.  And even if they do get a word in edgewise, you may counter what they say just so your opinion is heard even louder (not necessarily in volume but in value).  You have to prove your point or share your experience or highlight your perspective.  If you're in a training class where the facilitator may throw a question out to the audience, you are usually the one who has to say something even if other people have already contributed.  Even the content of your contributions are all about you and your beliefs. They are usually self-serving and self-centered.
     Arrogance in this instance says "Look at me.  I have an opinion on that and that and that, and I'm going to tell you about it.  I'm going to tell you about me.  I'm going to tell you about what I believe.  I'm going to tell about how your statement applies to me.  I'm going to tell you about my experience with what you just shared.  I'm going to tell you, I'm going to tell, I'm going to tell."
     So here's some advice:  (Yes it's unsolicited, but it's not about me, it's about you.)  Try humility.  Stop for a minute and consider that you don't have all the answers. And even if you believe you do, no one else cares.  When they ask you directly for your opinion, then offer it.  If it is in an open forum, then refrain from offering too much.  Consider the other people in the room and that they have something to contribute as well.  Give them an opportunity to share.  You may be surprised to find that other people are wise and intelligent too, and you may actually learn something if you just take the focus off of you and listen for a change.  Pass it along.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Leaders Should Do to Speak Enthusiasm (When It's Not Your Thing)

     Countless surveys have been done that show teams want leaders who inspire them.  They appreciate working with a manager who motivates them with their own enthusiasm and zest for life.  This is not a skill that's learned very easily if at all.  It's actually a personality trait that a lot of people have naturally, and to act counter to it would be a strain for them.  They love life and have a penchant for seeing experiences in a positive way even if things aren't going well.  Not everyone can do this and come across sincere.  Some people have to work at it.  On the contrary, as much as the optimistic person does not have to work hard at being excited about life, the pessimist does not have to work hard at seeing the hardships of life--and living in them.
     Pessimists see optimists sometimes as phonies.  They don't believe anyone can be that enthusiastic all the time and be sincere.  They believe they're hiding their pain.  Pessimists try to search below the surface for the "real" problems.  They take life seriously and see it as a succession of fires that have to be put out and issues that plague them at home and work.  This type of outlook on life can drain the energy out of people who don't share it.  Managers who go around the office all day looking for obstacles, bringing up negative issues, and creating problems where they don't have to exist cause workers to hate coming through the company's doors every day.
     Uninspiring leaders don't often realize this is how they act.  This behavior is the norm for them, and few people tend to point it out for fear of hurting their feelings or having to deal with the wrath that may come because, of course, a pessimist will not take the feedback well.
     Some leaders are not pessimists but still lack the knowledge in how to show enthusiasm at work.  They have a more reserved demeanor and may come across as disconnected and uninspiring.
     If you struggle with showing enthusiasm on the job or in life because of either of these reasons, keep a couple of things in mind:
     1)  Troubles come without prompting so don't invite them in.  An enthusiastic and inspiring leader tries to protect his or her team as much as possible from the issues that will serve as little more than distractions to them.  These are the things that keep people from being productive and weighed down.  In speaking to the team, a leader who struggles with sounding enthusiastic should get used to saying:  "Don't worry about it.  We'll get through it."  Or, "This is a big barrier, but it's nothing that a strong team like us can't can get over."  Or, "Let's focus our attention on those things we can influence or change and not those we can't."  Enthusiastic leaders aren't bouncing off the walls, standing on chairs or shouting some rousing speech.  They simply speak with hope.
     2)  Encourage your team by acknowledging their special contributions and showing that you're one of their biggest supporters.  Speak enthusiastically about their accomplishments.  Be sincere by complimenting them only when it is earned and appropriate.  How much more enthusiastic would a person feel about getting back to their desk if at the staff meeting you called them out on an awesome job they did on a particular project or over the past several months as a "turnaround player"?  How much more respected a manager would you be if you showed your enthusiasm with a smile rather than a bland look while telling the team how you have every confidence they are going to hit the team's goals this quarter.
     Enthusiasm is far more than being a cheerleader and slapping backs and grinning.  Many people don't feel comfortable behaving that way, and it's okay.  It's not their norm.  But they can always speak enthusiasm without being enthusiastic by saying the right words sincerely and regularly.

Monday, June 23, 2014

3 Ways to Sound Empathetic When You're Not Sure How

  
    
  
     Empathy is a little practiced emotion in today's communications.  Many people I've talked to admit that they tend to forget to be empathetic when they should be.  They also get confused about when they should be empathetic and when they should be sympathetic.  In fact, they hardly know the difference between the two and aren't quite sure how to show either.  So let's start there.  Let's distinguish between the two.  Empathy is the ability to be able to understand what other people are going through because you've experienced the same thing or something similar.  Sympathy is feeling compassion for someone else when something unfortunate happens to them.  Therefore, empathy is about, "Hey, I know what you're going through" and sympathy is "I may not fully know what you're going through, but I'm sorry it's happening to you."  Our focus today is to know how and when to be empathetic.  To avoid the awkwardness that can arise when an opportunity requires it and you're not sure what to do, keep these three things in mind:
     1)  You don't have to have all the right words to say.  Sometimes people believe they have to sound like a Hallmark card during difficult times.  Reality is, most of us aren't all that prolific.  Rather than forcing comments that will likely fall flat, just keep it simple.  Be sincere even if it means admitting out loud that you don't have the words.  Something like:  "I really wish I knew what to say right now, but I don't think any words would be adequate.  But know that I hate this for you.  I'm just going to sit here with you for awhile, and if you want to talk about it, I'm here to listen."  Then be quiet.  Sometimes just being there is enough.  Empathy is shown as much as it is said.
     2)  Tell your story.  Your experience in a similar situation could be a comfort to the person who is struggling through at the moment.  Show them you are a survivor.  Give them hope that they will make it through too.  Saying something like, "I understand if you're afraid about your diagnosis.  I was diagnosed with the same thing" or "I know it's hard to lose a parent.  I lost my mother when I was 18" or "I know how it is to work with a demanding boss.  Mine has been a pain in my rear for two years now."  Being able to relate to what someone else is going through because you've walked that path before provides them a bit of relief.
     3)  As much as it helps, it is not necessary that you experience a particular hardship exactly to be empathetic.  You can show or express your feelings about the situation without having lived it.  But try to avoid statements like "I know how you feel" if you've never been in their predicament.  People find that annoying.  Still, you can show your support with a few standard responses because your experience was similar if not exactly the same.  For example:  "If I were in your shoes, I would feel the same way."  Or, "I can understand your frustration.  I would be frustrated too."  Or simply to acknowledge their feelings: "You're hurt right now because you've been betrayed.  It's okay.  You should feel hurt.  Most anyone would."
     One caveat about the statement "I know how you feel" is that you can say it if you have experienced the same feelings they are. Therefore anyone can be empathetic because all of us have had the same emotional responses as other people in life. We may not display them at the right time or in the right way, but we've all felt the same emotions at some point.  Our reaction may have been the result of a different situation, but the emotion is still the same.  For example, you may have been embarrassed because you got caught gossiping about a person and they heard you.  The person you are trying to comfort may be feeling embarrassed by a criticism thrown their way by the boss in a staff meeting.  Even though the situations are different, the feeling is still the same.  Therefore, you can empathize about being embarrassed.
     Being empathetic builds emotional connections.  Empathy brings comfort and increases confidence in the other person.  Your affirmations are healing and your validations are supportive--two things they need most at the moment.  Try them and build stronger relationships.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

10 More Rules of Engagement in Conflict



Hopefully you've had an opportunity to read the first ten Rules of Engagement in conflict on this blog.  They are explained in depth.  But here are ten more to round out the list.  They are as valuable as the others and are sure to squelch any disagreement that could escalate into a full-on war of words.  Try these:

11.  Avoid sarcasm.  It is condescending and sure to annoy the other party.  Just be straight in your answers and leave the judgment out of it.

12.   Look the person in the eye.  Show interest, not disdain.  Eye contact means you're paying attention to what they're saying and actually considering their perspective.

13.  Watch your body language.  No big threatening gestures or pounding on tables.  No slamming doors or throwing items.

14.  No interrupting the other person while they’re speaking.  We get so caught up in trying to assert our point, that we don't realize we're denying the other person the opportunity to express theirs.  In that regard, we're not looking to resolve anything, we're looking to force our opinion as if it is the only one that matters.

15.  Stick with the issue at hand.  Don’t go back and rehash old arguments.  It is so easy to go round and round trying to push an issue, to never let things go, to never yield.  Some people can keep disagreements alive for years.  Learn to be a peacemaker.

16.  Always look for solutions.  Don’t just argue without an end in mind.  Be a problem solver.

17.  Choose your battles carefully.  Everything doesn’t require an argument.  Learn to be agreeable and compromising.  You can’t always have everything your way.

18.  Don’t bring other people into your argument—figuratively or physically.  And don't let anyone bring you into theirs.  Fight your own battles and let other people fight theirs.

19.  Listen for ways to avoid making the same mistakes that lead to an argument.  Commit to making a change in your own behavior before correcting someone else's.  Listen to what other people tell you about certain habits you have that cause issues for those around you.

20.  Ask questions rather than make accusations.  For ex. “Why did you say that?” and "What do you mean by that?"



And here are three bonus tips:
1.  Be willing to apologize.
2.  Don’t hold grudges when the disagreement is over
3.  Adhere to these rules.  They don’t work unless they’re followed by BOTH parties.