Relationship-saving tips to help tackle and solve problems with other people in a constructive way. Learn how to express your truth with honesty & respect.
By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin
“When two noted family therapists examined couples in the throes of heated discussions, they noted that people fall into three categories, those who digress into threats and name-calling, those who revert to silent fuming, and those who speak openly, honestly and respectfully. After watching dozens of couples, the two scholars predicted relationship outcomes and tracked their research subjects’ relationships for the next ten years. Sure enough, they had predicted nearly 90 percent of the divorces that occurred. Over time, couples who found a way to state their opinions about high-stakes, controversial and emotional issues honestly and respectfully remained together. Those who didn’t, split up.” Kerry Patterson
Express Your Truth: Do You Want To Be Right Or Do You Want To Be Effective?
The secret to effectiveness is being right, right?
The secret to effectiveness is being right together.
To solve a problem together you and your colleague need to:
1. Exchange ideas to build a shared point of view.
2. Understand each other’s essential needs.
3. Plan how to best meet these needs.
4. Commit to specific actions to implement the plan.
5. Follow through on these commitments.
This is very different than convincing your colleague that you’re right and he’s wrong. Although some people have no ego, most of us humans are not like that. We are invested in “saving face” by scoring some truth-points in the conversation. So it is essential to find a way to state your perspective without invalidating the other’s.
This is not just “touchy-feely.” Each person is an expert in the areas of “me, my ideas and my needs.” I know who I am, what I think, and what matters to me. So even if I were mistaken in some way, you would be foolish to discount all of me if you want to work with me to resolve an issue.
And if you don’t want to work with me to resolve an issue, why on Earth are we having this conversation?
Productive expression is a way to help your colleague learn about your reasoning. It allows him understand what you are thinking, but more importantly, why you are thinking what you are thinking, and what you would like both of you to do about it.
You could think of these three aspects of expression as segments in time, each with an associated question:
The present: What (do I think?)
The past: Why (do I think it?)
The future: So what (do I want to do about it?)
If you answer these questions in a respectful language, you will make it easier for your colleague to listen to you, as he will not feel put into a corner where he must argue you are wrong or concede he’s wrong.
Respect Starts With “I”
“At the heart of better communication is the self-statement. A self-statement puts the responsibility for your emotional experience squarely on your shoulders. It is the one single, easy-to-learn skill that can most dramatically improve the communication. Self-statements always begin by using the subject “I” to discuss a problem. They exist in opposition to their nemesis, “you” statements. A “you” statement puts the responsibility for your emotional discomfort on your partner, never on yourself. “You” statements are communications of criticism, blame, and anger. In “you” statements, your emotional experiences, and negative behaviors are always presented as being an appropriate response to the irresponsible or hurtful action of someone else. “I” statements decrease the emotional reactivity of the system. “You” statements increase the emotional reactivity and interpersonal tension.” John W. Jacobs
Notice how different you would feel if you heard the (A) versus the (B) statements.
(A) You’re wrong.
(B) I have different information.
(B) I reach a different conclusion.
(B) I don’t follow your argument.
(A) That’s crazy.
(B) I don’t understand it.
(B) I find that scary.
(B) I am worried about the possible consequences.
(A) You shouldn’t do it.
(B) I wish you wouldn’t do it.
(B) I ask you not to do it.
(B) I object to that course of action on X and Y grounds.
(A) That’s not a good strategy.
(B) That strategy doesn’t meet my needs.
(B) I don’t like that strategy because X, Y, and Z.
(B) I don’t see how that strategy moves us forward, at least not yet.
When you speak with “I” statements, you acknowledge the subjective nature of your view, allowing space for your colleague to legitimately have a different view.
It takes two valid “I’s” to make a constructive “We”.
The Dance of Expression and Inquiry
Productive expression and inquiry are two sides of the same coin. When you inquire about my ideas, you help me express. When you express your ideas, you answer my inquiry. Even if I didn’t know how to express or inquire, you could subtly guide me to partner with you in a productive conversation. It only takes one skillful person, and a willing counterpart, to have a quality dialogue.
Find more exercises related to mindfulness at work here.