Recently I held a number of open office hours online to answer questions that people had about emotional intelligence. By far the most frequently asked question was, “Why do people become so defensive?” Perhaps the easiest way to understand defensiveness is to understand what makes each of us defensive.
This past week I was shocked to read about two passengers on a flight who evidently started a fight over their different political views. The pilot went on a rant over the plane’s intercom taking the fighting passengers to task to defuse the situation. With all the divisiveness that seems to be going on right now, each of us ought to put a particular emphasis during the upcoming holiday to go out of our way to make life more rewarding for one another.
I recently had a team ask me if emotional displays were appropriate in the workplace. When I asked them what they meant, they shared with me that one member of their team would sometimes cry when discussing topics that were relevant to his or her work.
I took the time to explore the situation with the person. I concluded that his or her behavior resulted because some team members didn’t see the issue in the same way or feel as passionately as they did about the situation that was being discussed.
When we consider the appropriateness of emotional displays, the expression of emotion could be placed along a continuum from aggressive or “hot” to passive or “cold.” Obviously when someone begins to shout, demean, or use derogatory terms, the person who is confronted by such behavior will usually respond in two ways: they will respond in kind and meet “hot” emotion with “hot” emotion, or they will completely shut down.
One day this week when I was working at home the upstairs phone began to ring. Since I was busy, I ignored the call, figuring the answering machine would pick it up. During the next hour, the phone rang at least three more times.
A number of years ago, one of my sons tried out for the junior high basketball team. Unfortunately, he did not make the team. He returned home being even more deflated because he was offered a position as the team manager, a position he turned down. Rather than sulk and engage in self-pity, he went to work. He devised a plan to improve his skills, so that he could make the team as a sophomore.
When I ask folks why they refuse to talk about what matters most, the most frequently offered response is, “I don’t know how to do it.” Whatever your response may be, the consequences are always the same, poor results. Such thinking usually results in what I call counterfeit conversation or “fake talk.”
Sometimes I just can’t pass up a good story. Here is one that my financial planner told me this week. It seems that he was out to lunch with one of his clients. While eating, his client was approached by a police officer who asked him to identify himself. The client gave his name, and then the officer passed him a set of papers. The client chuckled and said, “This is obviously a joke given that it is my 50th birthday tomorrow?” The officer replied, “No sir, I am an officer of the law,
Everyone has had to deal with a difficult challenge, the poor performance of others, or something that didn’t go as planned. When such a situation occurs, we may begin to experience an emotional reaction.
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.
Having traveled and spoken a lot this year, it is always interesting to see what learning lessons will emerge from the people that I address. I recently conducted a session with a large group with one person who seemed to be more interested in challenging me than in listening and learning about something that she hadn’t heard before. She seemed bent on contesting a lot of what I was saying with a constant barrage of, “Yeah, buts.”
Not long ago I was reflecting on a conversation that I had with my spouse. I thought that I had not been a very good listener in a conversation that we had about an hour earlier. Knowing that she was in the next room, I called out to her, “Stephanie, I was thinking about that conversation we just had, and I was thinking I need to apologize for not listening or giving you my full attention when you were talking. Will you forgive me?” She responded, “For which time?”
Years ago I started to notice that the way I spoke to my children did not produce the desired results. I remember one day when my oldest brought home a B- in math, and I said something like, “You got a B- in math? What happened?” Immediately my spouse responded with, “Some kind of a communication expert you are!”