Communication is something that we all do every day…or at least try to do. There are many barriers and obstacles to effective communication, including our ego getting in the way.
This week I am excited to be participating in the buzz about John R. Stoker’s book Overcoming Fake Talk. John is a communications expert and his book offers great examples and resources on overcoming the barriers that block effective communication every day.
The following is a guest post from John.
Seven Tips for Handling Other People’s Drama
“Ego” can be defined as a person’s opinion about himself or herself, or the sense of self-esteem that the person holds. When egos get bruised—or even threatened—it is not uncommon for drama to ensue. In order to effectively deal with the drama that occurs in some of your conversations, you have to be willing to suspend your own thinking or agenda—your own ego, if you will—so that you can take steps to manage the situation more effectively.
A good example of this recently happened to Monique, one of my assistants, when she was asked to co-chair a “super-activity” for her local high school. One of several tasks she and her co-chair had to complete was to divide participants into smaller groups. As organizers, they had promised the students that everyone would have at least one friend in their group; as you can imagine, this turned out to be a significant logistical challenge.
At home after a marathon organizing session one day, Monique was looking over the lists she and the co-chair had made and discovered, to her dismay, that there were in fact several people who would not have a friend with them in their assigned groups. Committed to keeping the promise they had made to the students, Monique made some changes to the previously-organized groups, then emailed her co-chair to let her know what changes she had made.
Her co-chair immediately emailed back. “Don’t change a single thing we did together! That makes me feel like my opinion doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t change things. I understand some things, but really…”
Monique called me to ask for some coaching in handling the “drama” this co-chair frequently creates. (She also gave me permission to share this story and the coaching I gave her in response.) Here are some tips for handling negativity and drama created by others in conversation.
1. Don’t Take Them Personally. We have to face the unfortunate fact that as living, breathing human beings we have a tendency to take things personally, especially when we are unconscious and are not thinking objectively. Clearly, some people take things more personally than others—and react emotionally. The truth is, however, that a person’s emotional reactions say more about the person having the emotion than about anyone else in the situation! This is because our emotions are inspired
based on the way we are interpreting a given current situation. It is also sadly true that people tend to interpret events negatively—unless they have been trained to be more emotionally intelligent.
When people become accusatory or emotional, remain calm. If you allow yourself to become emotional, then your rationality will soon depart. Recognize that negativity or emotional reaction camouflages the “meaning” or thinking that is driving what you see. You will never discover what is going on with the person if you meet blame with blame or if you match their emotion with your emotion. Remain calm to maintain rationality.
2. Notice Patterns. Look at your past experience and interactions with this person. Do they typically react negatively or with a high degree of emotion when certain things happen? When a person frequently reacts in a particular way, then you know that they are responding to a mindset that they hold about themselves and the way they see the world. Your challenge will be to help them begin to see things differently. Look for patterns of behavior to help you anticipate who may do what.
3. Ask Self-reflective Questions. These types of questions help a person look at and think about themselves. For example, Monique could ask her co-chair, “What did I say or do that makes you think that I discount your opinion?” or “Why do you think your opinion might not matter?” Notice that self-reflective questions require some thought or introspection on the part of the individual. If the person answers “I don’t know,” don’t let them wiggle out of the question. Reaffirm that you are sincerely interested in the answer. Allow the person time to identify the answers—you might need to discuss them at another time. Formulate good self-reflective questions.
4. Manage Their Interpretations. A person who is negative and emotional is being driven by negative thoughts and interpretations. Ask them to consider other possible interpretations, for example, “Using the observation of (fact A), what other conclusions might you draw?” This short exercise allows the person to become more aware of their thinking process. In reality, you are helping them challenge the accuracy of their thinking and helping them to see the inaccuracy or the holes in their thinking. Ask for more objective interpretations.
5. Be Patient. Allow people time to answer your questions. Whatever you do, DON’T answer your own questions! This turns your questions into points you want to make, which robs the person of the opportunity for self-discovery. Allow people time to process or think through what you are asking and arrive at their own conclusions. People have to learn for themselves, or they won’t learn the lesson. Take the time for learning.
6. Set Ground Rules. If you find yourself working with a challenging individual, establish some ground rules for how you will handle challenges or irritations together when they arise. I would advise meeting face-to-face, or at least via telephone. Don’t try to hold difficult conversations via text or email—too much of the message is lost when you attempt to handle a situation using just the words. Determine how you will handle tough issues.
7. Express Appreciation. Part of the reason that people take things negatively and react emotionally is because they have their own insecurities around some issue. Their reaction is really a reflection of the negative perception they have of themselves. To counter this perception, it is important that you take the opportunity to appreciate their work and celebrate the many good things they do. Sincerely making the effort to recognize a person in this way will reinforce that you value the person and their contribution, and will likely lessen the frequency with which they take things personally and react emotionally.
Everyone has had the opportunity to deal with one or more individuals who are extremely skilled at creating drama. Your ability to manage drama will directly impact how effective you are at working with others and creating the results you desire. Notice that to handle the drama that others create, you must intentionally suspend what you want and think, and turn your attention to the other person in the conversation. If you will deliberately use some of the tactics I have identified above, you will be able to turn those conversation “nightmares” into sweet dreams.
For over 20 years, John R. Stoker has been facilitating and speaking to audiences, helping them to improve their thinking and communicating skills. He is an expert in communications who believes the human capacity to achieve astonishing results depends on the individual’s ability to interact with others.
John holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Behavior as well as a J.D. Degree. His landmark book, Overcoming Fake Talk, is both entertaining and engaging, and it presents skills that help readers talk about what matters most.
In the past, John worked as a practicing criminal defense attorney, spent summers as a Grand Canyon white-water guide, and taught on the university level for 13 years. John has been happily married since 1994 and he and his wife Stephanie are the proud parents of five children.