As I have traveled around the country speaking, I have frequently been asked, “Can you give us some examples of ‘fake talk’? We’re not sure exactly what that means.” You’ll remember that fake talk is any conversation that doesn’t achieve the results that you want. Consequently, this question has refocused my attention on the communication behaviors that people often demonstrate that yield less than desirable results. In fact, the results that we receive are usually where the disconnect happens between our expectations and reality. In other words, when you are confronted with dealing with a difficult person, someone who doesn’t take accountability seriously, a person who performs poorly, those who are offensive, or any other situation that doesn’t meet your expectations, you are forced to deal with the situation or continue to get undesirable results.
At some time or another, we all have engaged in “fake talk tactics.” Why? Probably somewhere in our past, we came to believe that these conversational tactics worked, or we wouldn’t have used them. There is usually a payoff for the behaviors that we enact. However, what we do know is that these tactics really don’t promote discovery, learning, improvement, or growth. Such behavior usually yields poor results, disrespect, and challenged relationships.
Listed below are a number of fake talk tactics. Because the first step to improvement is to become more self-aware, I hope you will learn something about your own behavior and that of your team that may be contributing to a lack of results.
1. The Expert thinks that they always know better or more than anyone else. This is different than someone who wants to sincerely offer their expertise or advice. These folks really believe that they have to take control of the conversation to get what they want. Consequently, they may give advice, cut you off in conversation, or always have some type of evidence for why you are wrong and they are right.
Results: Their behavior creates “push back” or resistance in others. Eventually, people will quit speaking up and will keep their ideas and experience to themselves. If one expert encounters another expert then the fight will be on. Because many people are conflict adverse, others will avoid confrontation with the expert at all costs.
What to Do: If someone is continually cutting you off, try asking them questions and then summarizing to make sure that you have understood their point of view. Then signal that you have a different point of view that you would like them to consider. If they begin cutting you off, you might say something like, “I really appreciate your advice, but before you continue, would you mind if I finished? I have some information that you may not have considered.” Notice that I am calling them on their behavior and asking them to act differently in the situation.
2. The Sphinx usually remains quiet or silent. You can ask them questions, and they won’t respond. You may find yourself feeling like you are talking to yourself, so you pause to give them an opening, and still they won’t respond. They just keep their ideas to themselves. They may not even look at you when you are talking which can be further aggravating. Once when I pressed such an individual to engage, she responded with, “It just takes me longer to process things.”
Results: We tend to exclude these people or to become highly frustrated with their silence. Sometimes their lack of engagement will mute others or keep you from speaking up. Their silence may even cause you to withdraw altogether.
What to Do: Be patient. Some people take up to 10 seconds to process and respond to an inquiry. If after you have given them sufficient time and space to be able to answer your questions, they still are reticent to speak, then you may need to move to a more private meeting. Once there you can address their silence or lack of engagement and decide together the best way to help them feel comfortable or safe enough to share what they are thinking. When they do contribute to any conversation, be sure to thank them sincerely for their contribution.
3. The Historian is often referring to something in the past. In fact, they may sound like they are keeping score or remembering the past so that they can use it against you. It would not be uncommon to hear them say, “You did this yesterday. And you did it the day before too. In fact, you always do this!” They also may use the past as an excuse for not trying anything new. In this instance you might hear them say, “Well, we’ve always done it this way.”
Results: Such behavior shuts people down and turns them off. This behavior may lead to resentment on the part of others, and it forces others to use their history as a defense for being maligned which results in more defensiveness.
What to Do: Recognize that this behavior is a form of self-preservation. They may be trying let you know the history if they think that you don’t have all the information in the situation, so they want to be sure that you won’t mistakenly accuse them of being wrong. On the other hand, some people may engage in this behavior because they may not be getting something that they want. They may have kept their thoughts and feelings in until they can’t stand it any longer. There is some value that is important to them that is being violated. You need to have a conversation about what is important to them and why. Only then will you learn what you may need to change to achieve a different result.
4. The Mind Reader expects you to know what they are thinking. They might say something like, “You should have known what I meant after working together for over 14 years.” Or they might say, “I know what you really meant even if you didn’t say it.”
Results: They don’t listen completely to what you are saying because they either think they know what you mean or they interpret your message incorrectly. This results in frustration on your part which is made worse when they don’t perform the way you expected. They expect you to read their mind, and they think that they can read yours.
What to Do: Once they have not met your expectations, you need to hold a conversation with them and refer to the data that indicates their thinking was inaccurate because they didn’t deliver on your expectations. And you always need to ask yourself if you communicated your expectations with clarity. If you can’t help them explore how they violated your expectations, then they may never come to the realization that they need to recognize and suspend their thinking and listen.
5. The Recruiter looks for support from everyone else against your idea or perspective. They might say something like, “Well everyone in the office agrees with me, so that obviously isn’t the way to go.” When you ask others about this, you find that no one will agree with them. This leaves you wondering what everyone else is really thinking. These are also the folks who hold the post-meeting meeting to align others against your decision or a course of action.
Results: This behavior leads to a lack of candor and openness. People in this category often spend more effort recruiting others to their way of thinking rather than in exploring alternatives, collaborating, and learning with others. Their behavior may also cause you to take steps to avoid or exclude them.
What to Do: You need to establish ground rules with everyone for how you will explore difficult issues. For example, you might direct people to come prepared with evidence or data in support of their thinking in a decision-making meeting. You might also hold a conversation with the person in private soliciting their support and outlining your expectations of their behavior in meetings.
6. The Comeback Kid always has a negative comment for what people say. For example, he or she might say, “That will never work! That’s ridiculous!” They often use phrases like “Yeah but…” to negate what others are saying.
Results: People quit speaking up or sharing different perspectives if they are confronted with the appearance of an obstacle that they always have to overcome. People tire of dealing with those who are always negative. They become defensive and will avoid dealing with him or her whenever possible.
What to do: When the disagreement begins, ask for the evidence or data that supports their view. Don't be surprised when they don't have any. When this happens, you can reaffirm that their perspective is always welcome with supporting evidence.
7. The Feeler uses their feelings as the basis for what they think, what they want, or for what decisions they make. This is a very interesting way off cutting off all discussion of an issue. It makes the offering of examples or evidences inconsequential because it may run counter to what they feel.
Results: People end up feeling frustrated and disengaged. This tactic is a way of shutting down discussion and allows the person to be right while making everyone else wrong. Such behavior can lead to defensiveness and rejection of the person. In addition sometimes the feeler may be equally frustrated with their inability to explain to others the “why” behind their feelings. Learning how to draw out the why behind their feelings will help to resolve a potential stalemate. Know that the testimonials of others and personal experiences will weigh much more heavily than facts and figures with these people.
What to Do: It is important to establish the basis or criteria from which decisions will be made. You can acknowledge their feelings, and then defer to the information that will lead to a more logical decision. You may also rely on the experience of others for support of a particular perspective. Dealing with these individuals on a personal level can be frustrating because this type of fake talk provides them with the justification for being right. Consequently, if you don't feel the same way they do, then you must be wrong.
Take a minute to ask yourself where, when, and with whom you are not achieving the desired results. Then take a look at how you would respond if someone spoke to you that way. See if you can identify what you may be doing that may be contributing to what you are getting. Or, better yet, find someone who will be candid and ask them about how you communicate and see if you can identify if a change in your behavior will yield a change in results. After all, we are perfectly poised to get results that we receive. The challenge is to discover how we create those results.
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