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Do You Let Your Feelings Get the Best of You? Eight Tips for Managing Your Emotions

For some time now I have been coaching a manager who has had several challenges with her director. One Friday night recently, my wife and I had gone out of town for the weekend for a little rest and to do some planning for the upcoming year. At about 12:30 a.m. the phone rang. This client was calling to tell me that she had texted her boss and quit her job. I was shocked and somewhat disappointed by her decision. I tried to help her see the upside of all she had been able to accomplish, but her mind was made up. When I asked her why she had decided to leave she responded with tears in her voice, “For two and a half years I have been yelled at and belittled in front of others. I have zero confidence. I feel like a glass that is totally full and running over. I can’t hold on anymore. I just can’t take it any longer.”

The next day, the boss called a meeting with my client to understand why she had decided to quit. When the client shared her feelings at how she had been treated, she was met with highly reactive behavior and defensiveness: the boss crossed her arms, turned red, and increased her volume as she said, “I guess I am old school. When I tell someone to do something, I expect them to do it. I realize that I am passionate at times, but I expect people to do as I ask without complaint. You need to man-up and learn to take a little heat during the battle.” The boss pled with her to stay with the company, but in the end, my client did not feel like she could continue.   

Experiences like these are far too common. As a coach, I often have people ask me for assistance in how to handle an individual that resorts to “hot” emotional outbursts and belittlement when things don’t go as planned. Surprisingly, many people don't even recognize that their behavior is overly aggressive, even in the midst of the behavior! For example, people who are naturally more assertive often do not realize that other people interpret their increase in volume as "yelling." All they have to do then is add a sarcastic or patronizing tone and a few expletives, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Whatever you decide to do when you are angry or frustrated, you should always remember that yelling at people will not fix the situation. In fact, it could end up creating more resistance and challenges than remedying the current situation.  

If you are a highly emotional individual, here are some tips to help you manage your own reactions to unexpected or unwanted situations:

1.     Be more aware. Spend a moment recognizing and reflecting on your behavior. Ask yourself these questions: “In what situations do I become emotional? With whom do I express my feelings most forcefully? What do people end up doing when I begin to become emotional with them?” Increase your awareness of your own behavior.

2.     Notice your thoughts. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions, while negative thoughts usually lead to negative action. Most individuals don’t take the opportunity to notice their thoughts. Here is the key: every time you feel an emotion, it was preceded by some thought. In fact, your thoughts can be pinpointed by recognizing the emotion that follows the thinking. For every negative emotion, there is a thought that precedes it. Use your emotions to identify your thoughts.

3.     Understand what is driving you. Is there a particular person who tends to "bring out the worst in you"? Once you can identify that person, you can begin to uncover the specific thinking that is driving your behavior. “Hot” emotion in human interaction is an indication that something you value has been violated--or at least that you perceive that something has been violated. It is not uncommon to become frustrated or upset when our expectations are violated--after all, the efforts of others are often a direct reflection on us or our leadership. But your emotions are only the tip of the emotional iceberg. Below the surface you might find some very distinct judgments and opinions about the person or the situation. You can surface your thinking by finishing the sentence, “I am angry because…” as many times as you can. Try writing your statements on paper. Doing this will make visible the thinking that is underneath your hot or difficult emotion. Look to yourself to understand the source of your emotion.

4.     Check the accuracy your thinking.  Once you have a fairly substantial list of statements that support your emotions, you can begin to look at those statements objectively to decide if they are really true or not. For example, perhaps you wrote down, “I am angry because Alex doesn’t know what he is doing!” Now you can ask yourself, “Is this statement absolutely true?” If you can find one piece of data (evidence) that tells you your statement might be incorrect, then you will know that further consideration and exploration of the situation or the person’s behavior are warranted. Look for evidence to support your thinking and don’t believe everything you think.

5.     Clarify your expectations. Before you start to go ballistic, you might find it helpful to think about the directions you gave to begin with. If you did not get what you wanted or expected, it could be because your request was not clear or specific enough. A lack of specificity on your part allows for misinterpretation on the part of your listener. Get clear on what exactly you expect.

6.     Focus on the process and not the person. Belittling a person, particularly in front of others, will not increase results in the long term. You want to understand what process was followed, how the results came about, where things went awry, and what might be done differently in the future, but berating an individual will not help you identify or fix a problem. Improve the process to change your results.  

7.     Notice the reactions of others. Because we have difficulty seeing ourselves as we are seen, learn to use the reactions of others as a mirror to examine our own behavior. If someone is becoming emotional or defensive with you, take an objective look at what you are projecting to them. Is their response a reflection of your behavior in the given situation? Observe others as a reflection of yourself.

8.     Check your results.  Our results reflect perfectly what we think, feel, say and do when we deal with others. If you are not achieving desired results, reflect on your own behavior—what you did or didn’t do—that might have contributed to your results. Use your results as a stepping stone to understanding yourself.

 

There is nothing wrong with being passionate or enthusiastic about what you are doing. But when your intense emotions berate, belittle, or demean an individual, then your behavior has crossed the line of appropriateness. Yelling and demeaning others is not the key to achieving results and building relationships, and there is no justification for such behavior. The focus of our conversations should be to uplift, encourage, and inspire others while maintaining a sense of respect and dignity for the individual.

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Could Your Leadership Communication Use a “Make-Over”?

The challenge for leaders is that they are frequently unaware of how their behavior negatively impacts their people's performance. Because of the continuing emphasis on results, many leaders really don’t focus on how they achieve results as long as they obtain the desired results.

During our leadership training, we often ask participants to identify past leadership behaviors they have experienced that have frustrated their efforts and negatively impacted their results. What starts out as an amusing exercise usually turns to quiet introspection as individuals consider how they treat their supporting cast. 

We realize that sometimes work simply becomes so hectic that leaders don’t stop to recognize and think about how they are managing their people. You might not be aware of the mistakes you are making, and perhaps you are not making conscious choices that would help others perform to the best of their abilities. Take a moment to ask yourself the questions below. Answer them honestly, and you may be able to identify some areas that need your attention. 

Do I provide clear directions for tasks I assign?

If people are constantly engaged in rework, then you might need to examine how specific your directions are. If you are unintentionally vague, then your directions may be misinterpreted by those who hear them. If the results you receive are not what you expected, you can probably track the cause back to a lack of clarity on your part. You can always ask, “What questions do you have about this assignment?” Be sure the directions you give are clear and specific.

Do I  micromanage?

Ask yourself: “Do I step in and take over projects I have asked others to do? Do I check and double check others’ work? Do I have time to meet my responsibilities, or am I so busy checking up on others that I don’t have time to get my own work done?” If you are unclear about the impact of your behavior, you might ask some people who will be candid with you for some feedback. If they answer in the affirmative, ask for specific examples of ways in which you micromanage others.

You might also try to identify whether you micromanage because your directions were unclear to begin with, or whether you have an underlying belief about a particular person that they are not capable of doing their job well. Discover how you manage.

Do I provide continual and timely feedback to people about their performance?

I really believe that people want to know when they are doing well, and they want to know what and when they need to change. If you provide specific feedback, you will open and strengthen existing channels of communication that are essential to great performance. Provide specific feedback often.

Do I ask questions to check my thinking or invite engagement?

If you do all of the talking when you give directions or assign a task, you will never learn whether you have been understood, and you will not be able to see things from the perspective of those who will do the work—people who might have insights that you cannot afford to ignore.

Asking questions is a great way to validate what you think or learn what you may not know. You might ask questions like these: “What questions do you still have? Is there something I need to consider? Can you summarize the priority of what I am asking you to do?” Ask questions to validate what you think you know and to learn what you may not know.

Do I give credit to the people who do the work?

When you provide recognition to people who do superior work and celebrate their successes, you reinforce the behaviors that create the results that you want. In a very real way, the people who work for you are an extension of you. When you recognize those people, you communicate to them and to everyone else that you value their contribution. It may seem counter-intuitive, but when you value others you also establish and build up your own value in your organization. 

Do I make myself available?

People want to know that they can get direction and feedback when challenges arise. When you are consistently available, people can get the answers they need to get things right the first time, which may prevent costly rework. Being able to get the information they need builds people's confidence in the contribution they make and in you as their leader. Be available.

When things don’t go as planned, do I become emotional or angry?

When we become emotional with people, two things happen: our rationality departs, and the people become defensive. Notice when you are becoming emotional and check the source of your emotions: most emotional reactions occur because we perceive that a value has been violated. If you can recognize the value that underlies your emotions, you can learn what is driving your emotional reactions. It is important to control your feelings rather than having your feelings control you. Identify the perceived violated value behind your own emotions.

Do my language and behavior communicate respect for others? 

Listen to the words you use and the tone of your language, and notice the gestures or behaviors you use when you speak or deliver a message. If any of your language or tone is harsh, belittling, or demeaning, eliminate that from your conversation tool kit right now. Disrespectful language and behavior do not inspire others to follow you—quite the opposite, in fact. Treating others in a demeaning way creates fear and diminishes the candor, sincerity, and honesty which are vital sources of information in any organization. Manage the delivery of your message; be respectful.

Am I supportive when things go wrong?

I once saw a senior leader take the side of a client against his own people—who had done exactly what he had told them to do. As important as it is to identify the cause of a problem or the source of a mistake, it is far more important to solve the problem or improve the process than it is to assign blame.  People will work hard and even go the extra mile (we call this "discretionary effort") when they know their leader is loyal to them and will back them up when push comes to shove. Support the people who work for you.

Do I provide opportunities for growth and development?

Wise leaders are always looking for people who can replace them someday. This requires that they teach and mentor others so they can acquire the skills that are necessary to advance or improve. Take the time to explore the aspirations and goals your people have, and then provide opportunities to help them grow and develop. This will increase their personal engagement and work satisfaction, and dramatically increase your rate of employee retention. It also insures the development of a more skilled workforce. Help others grow.

 

Sometimes the challenges of being a leader are so taxing that effective management practices suffer. But it is my belief that few leaders, if any, intentionally go out of their way to be disruptive or abusive. However, effectively managing others requires that a leader deliberately develop certain behaviors to achieve specific results. You may have noticed that all of the questions above focus on the way you communicate or interact with others. As you become more aware of your leadership behavior, you will increase your ability to effectively manage and lead. Deliberate steps you take to change your behavior or your habits will greatly improve your results—and the results of the people who work for you.  

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Tips for Handling Challenging Conversations during the Holidays

The holiday season usually offers many opportunities to practice your best conversation skills. Family members who usually don’t see each other, come together, which may present challenges because of the way that they act during these family gatherings. Some individuals seem to go blatantly out of their way to make others uncomfortable. Still others lack any sense of social decorum or awareness of how their behavior negatively impacts others. Unfortunately, we usually choose not to say anything to the offending party because they are family. Instead of saying something and causing potential conflicts, people often sit quietly and say nothing. After years of exposure to these unaware family members, resentment can build to the point where people don’t want to attend family gatherings any longer.

 There are any number of typical roles that people may demonstrate in these gatherings. Each situation demands that you be aware in the moment of what is happening in order to manage the dynamic more effectively and mitigate negative outcomes as much as possible. Here are a few roles that are common in family dynamics and some suggestions for improving the “situation.”   

“The Competitor”— Sometimes when some families get together it seems every conversation turns into a form of verbal competition. This occurs when people begin to compete to determine who can be the loudest, who can tell the best story, who can tell the worst story, or who get in the last word on any topic. The whole conversational dynamic focuses on some form of “one-upmanship.”  If everyone gets pulled into this dynamic, the whole conversation ends up spiraling out of control, people become disrespectful or downright nasty, and everyone ends up being offended.

What Can You Do?—To manage the conversation and achieve a more positive result, you must recognize what is happening in the moment—become an observer. This requires you to not only participate in the content of the conversation, but also observe what is being said by whom and how the message is delivered. If you can identify the competition once it starts, then you can take steps to shift out of this dynamic. You can do this by asking any number of questions to create a different dynamic. For example you might ask any of the following: 

·        “What is the greatest thing you learned this past year?”

·        “I have had a real challenge with … this past year. Could anyone give me some advice on how to address this issue?”

·        “Would anyone be open to playing a game, watching a movie, or telling their favorite holiday story?”

Notice that in this situation, it’s important to recognize when the competition starts and then ask questions to change the focus of the conversation or shift to a different activity entirely. Take responsibility to change the dynamics before things get out of control.

“The Storyteller”— This person always has a story to tell. And the story they tell usually deals with some form of injustice that they perceive they have suffered at the hands of another person. You could probably bear to hear this story one time, but the problem arises when they tell the same story over and over again. At first it seems like they want your advice about how to handle the situation more effectively, but when they continue to rehash the same situation over and over again, you realize that something else is going on. That is when you need to recognize that they need something that they are not getting.

What Can You Do? When you experience this dynamic, acknowledge their story using empathy for their situation. Saying something like, “I can understand how difficult it was for you to go through that,” will help. If they continue to tell the same story, in private you might say something like, “I have heard you tell me the same story three times in the last day. I was wondering if there is something that you need from me that I am not providing. What can I do?” Notice that you are pointing out their behavior to them and causing them to think about why they continue to repeat themselves. You are also increasing their awareness about what they want from you. Doing so should help them to make a different choice about how they are handling the issue.     

“The Put-Down Artist”— Sometimeswhen familiesget together, there is one person who takes it upon him or herself to provide negative feedback to one particular person. They seem to believe it is there solemn duty to criticize or make denigrating remarks in front of everyone present. When this happens everyone is usually so uncomfortable that no one says a thing. This behavior fosters disrespect, frustration, and strong emotional feelings on the part of the recipient. Such behavior also forces family members to take sides.

 I have often wondered why some individuals would engage in this kind of behavior. Most of us would have the common sense to offer others the benefit of our perspective in private rather than in public. Perhaps this is a tactic for gaining a sense of superiority of self, an attempt to put the other person down with the intent of elevating oneself in the eyes of others, or a tactic to insure that the other person will not respond in kind. Whatever the reason, a group gathering is not the time and place to single someone out.

What Can You Do?— When you know that you will be in the presence of this type of person, it is important to select an intent or purpose for engaging in any conversation with this individual. I decide beforehand that my purpose is to maintain a respectful relationship with that person and their family members. Then, when they engage in their usual antics, I am not reactive to the negative feedback they offer. I can then thank them for their feedback and not be affected by their negativity.

You should also remember that when people offer negative feedback, what they offer says more about them than it does about you. They are sharing their perspective of a situation. You might try asking for facts, evidence, or specific examples to support the feedback they offer. Don’t be surprised if they don’t have any support for their view. If this is the case, then what they are sharing is based more on their opinion or view than what current reality may be. 

The “Drama” Queen or King— I had a father tell me about how his adult daughter would sit in the middle of a group of adults and text and play on her phone for hours while everyone was interacting when they got together as a family. He became so frustrated with her behavior that he called her on it. She replied with, “Well, no one cares what I think anyway.” Making such a comment obviously drew more attention to herself and was irritating and rude to others. It was almost like she was seeking further validation that what she had to offer to the group interaction was of no value.

What Can You Do?— Certainly, calling her out was not the answer. However, her father could have involved her in the conversation by asking her opinion on a topic that they were discussing. Or he could have shifted the conversation to some other family activity.  If the behavior continued over the course of the gathering, he could have pulled her aside and simply ask her to go to another room rather than blatantly ignoring everyone in the room.

“The Winner”— Someindividuals have to be right no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you have information or evidence that runs counter to what they are proposing. You are “wrong” and they are always “right” particularly when it comes to topics like politics. Sometimes such conversations make you wonder if these individuals are capable of having a mature discussion. You need to recognize that they are not. To be wrong would run so counter to what they think or who they are so they just can’t accept any other view outside their own view.

What Can You Do?— Don’t take what they say personally. Recognize that they may be incapable of rationally reasoning through an issue because of their personal commitment to that idea. When I find myself discussing an issue with such an individual, I find it easier to offer some non-provoking or non-confrontational statements and to abandon any notion of coming to a more shared, rational perspective. Here are a few you can try:

·        “That’s interesting!”

·        “Oh, I’ve never heard that before. Can you send me a link so I can read more about that?”  (Of course they never will.)

·        “Share with me the data that led to your conclusion.”

The holidays with family and friends can be a great time of year or can be quite challenging. If you can remember to observe the dynamics of any conversation, to listen for the need behind the story, to have a positive intent, to not be derailed by the drama of others, and to accept the irrationality of others, then you can not only maintain your sanity, but also maintain the respect necessary to build more positive relationships.  Happy Holidays!!

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