Often, all that stands between you and what you want is a better set of questions.
Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask. After all, conscious thinking is largely asking and answering questions in your own head. If you want confusion and heartache, ask vague questions. If you want uncommon clarity and results, ask uncommonly clear questions.
Since writing last week’s post, I’ve had nine clients vent to me their frustrations over not being respected – by bosses, colleagues, direct reports and a mother-in-law! My week was filled with the refrain, “I don’t feel respected!”
Each of these men and women feels hurt, angry, confused and each has reached the point where he or she feels like they can’t take it anymore. And adding to all of this is a feeling of helplessness. While each has handled his or her own situation differently, no one feels confident.
Five of the people opted not to say anything. Two got in the other person’s face. One found the courage to assertively confront her boss and another decided to respond with sarcasm and walk away.
One man claims he’s gained valuable insight into his boss’ unpredictable mood swings, but wishes he had been more assertive. One woman, who did find the courage to assertively address her boss’ irrational and demeaning demands, isn’t sure where she found the nerve and is surprised that her boss has backed off.
There are no hard and fast rules for communicating effectively. You constantly need to assess who is involved, what’s the situation and what’s your goal. You can’t figure out how to attain your goal unless you know what it is.
The issue of respect (or lack of it) is so pervasive among, yet so many of us are afraid to confront a person who we think is disrespectful.
What to do? I’ll tell you what I suggested to Louise. . .
Louise (name changed) works for a small firm owned by her brother. She directly reports, though, to Anthony and her problem is with him. Louise doesn’t think he respects her. Although she feels disrespected, she actually doesn’t know how he feels about her because she’s never talked with him about their relationship. Why? Because she doesn’t want to upset him – even though she continues to feel upset about the way he treats her.
When I suggested I moderate a conversation between them, she almost started to hyperventilate.
But, here’s the thing – she only has two options.
She can continue to say nothing and nurture her fantasies of being emotionally abused and then one day explode, after which she’ll be labeled a b*tch.
She can have a non-accusatory, non-manipulative conversation by which to clear the air.
Louise offered me a battery of “yes, buts” that make perfect sense since she’s not used to expressing her feelings in a non-explosive way. BUT having that tough conversation is what real respect is all about.
Years ago, I taught high school on the island of Moen in the South Pacific. The school had nine languages represented and an international faculty. I learned much about myself and life – one of those things being that humor doesn’t easily translate from culture to culture.
I’ve a twisted New York sense of humor and enjoy teasing people. One day Ernie, a teacher from the Philippines, point-blank asked, “JP, why do you hate me?”
Stunned, I reassured him that I didn’t hate him. But he proceeded to enumerate various times I joked with him, all of which he took as proof I despised him.
Ernie interpreted what I said in a certain way, i.e. that I hated him. He then turned his interpretation into a fact, after which he confronted me with the “fact” and demanded an explanation.
Only problem – it wasn’t a “fact” that I hated him. My humor was not intended to hurt him, though that was its impact.
Louise thinks Anthony doesn’t like her. However, she doesn’t know that for a fact because she’s never talked with him about their relationship.
Louise (and Ernie before her) is doing what so many of us do – she’s treating her interpretation of a situation as a “fact” when it’s not.
I’m urging Louise to do something called Perception Checking.
It’s a type of conversation where you seek clarity from the person whose actions are confusing you. It goes like this:
First ask the person for time to talk. It’s best to do this in person and not by email!
Second, describe the behavior that’s confusing you, without attaching any judgment to it. In Louise’s case, she might say, “Anthony, you yelled at me in front of my team, you didn’t inform me of an important client meeting and you’re slow to return my calls.”
Third, offer at least two possible interpretations for why the person is behaving in this manner. “Anthony, I don’t know if you’re stressed and feel safe taking it out on me or if I’ve done something to offend you or if there’s something else going on.”
Fourth, ask the person to clarify. “So, Anthony, what’s going on? Please help me understand.”
Is this an easy conversation to have? No!
However, it gives the other person an opportunity to non-defensively explain their behavior. If, though, the person, simply says, “nothing is going on” then repeat the steps until the person is able to offer some insight.
The beauty of this technique is that it helps to separate intent from impact because it helps us get out of the soap opera we so easily create in our heads.
Do you have the confidence to respect – and be respected?
What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.