I have experienced this, and unfortunately, have often made the wrong choice myself.
It was all about being right. I made an important point, but in doing so, I was too emotionally charged and had an overbearing undertone—”I’m right, and you’re wrong”—so that it was almost impossible for other people to hear the actual content of what I said.
Has this happened to you, and have you wondered how to break this dynamic? If so, I can promise you a remedy.
I’m excited to share that I have launched an on-demand course that walks you through an exercise to successfully have a difficult conversation. The course itself is only about an hour, but it will help you be prepared for all the difficult conversations you may have either at work or at home. It’s worth it.
I’ve tested 3 simple ways to make sure your message gets heard as it deserves:
1. Avoid using words like “always” and “never.”
When I spoke with an executive once, she insisted that her use of the word “never” was justified. If you tell people that they “never” or “always” do something, they will try to refute your claim.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it happens. Your immediate thought would be something like, “Come on, that’s just not true. I can think of at least two times that I didn’t do X.”
And the actual point you’re trying to make is completely missed. People often use these words because they think it will help them make their point more strongly – but trust me, it pretty much always backfires.
2. Ask questions instead of complaining, and listen.
Complaints tell us what’s not working. On the other hand, questions ask for a specific improvement. Simply put, a complaint sounds like, “You’re doing X wrong.” A question sounds like, “Could you do Y instead?”
Complaints make people feel defensive. Their energy goes into convincing you that their approach/action/thinking is right, rather than considering your point of view. On the other hand, questions are usually perceived respectfully and constructively, creating much more space for hearing your concerns.
Here’s an example. Imagine someone says, “Your people just aren’t giving us the information we need” vs. “Would it be possible for you to give us the information every Friday?”
I suspect you would be much more open to changing your behavior after the second scenario than after the first.
3. Always start with the positive.
When someone makes their point, and you disagree, it can be difficult. The other person will not want to listen. Instead, they will probably react as if a red line has been drawn. Doing so puts you on one side and them on the other. This is not a good way to have a constructive conversation.
Even if you later say what you like or agree with what was said, it’s usually too late to correct the first impression. On the other hand, if your response begins with something you sincerely like or agree with, what you have to say afterward is much easier to understand.
Starting with a genuinely positive contribution ensures that the other person will see you as a supportive and cooperative partner. Therefore, they’ll be more open to your subsequent concerns and suggestions.
Now you know why being heard is so much more important than being right. Listening to others yourself is at least as important. Follow the 3 steps we’ve listed to ensure you can do that.