Have you ever been in a difficult conversation where the other person appears intent on pulling you into an argument or trading personal attacks? We all have. When under attack during a difficult conversation our default response is to attack back. This is especially true when the attack appears out of nowhere, is irrational or personal. It evokes emotion.
Emotion constricts our cognitive ability and our fight or flight instinct kicks in. Most of us choose to fight or at least defend. We respond in an argumentative, sarcastic, or hostile tone which fosters reciprocity on the other side and it becomes a monster that feeds on itself. The result is a damaged relationship. When faced with an attack, don’t react. Respond with an “I” messages and/or “No’ oriented questions.
By using “I" messages, in an un-provocative way, we express how we feel when the other person does or says certain things. “I” messages identify a problem or issue without assigning blame. It is a face-saving technique that makes it easier to confront behavior that is counterproductive, without being accusatory. For instance, you might say, "We have been talking for several hours, and "when you insult me, I feel frustrated because it makes it difficult for me to focus on what you are saying.” Persistent, uncooperative behavior jeopardizes our ability to accomplish anything.
When confronted with a yeller, label the emotions and circumstances when the opportunities present themselves. If the yelling persists, hit them with a “No” oriented question. It confronts and offers protection at the same time. People are reluctant to say yes because it threatens autonomy and paints them into a corner. “No” oriented questions allow them to say no in order to benefit you. They are great to employ against the “yeller”. A “yeller” by definition is yelling because they want to be heard and for whatever reason, they believe that you are not hearing them. When confronted by the “yeller”, simply ask, “Do you want me to not hear what you are saying?” Of course the answer will be, no. This can be followed quite nicely with, “When you yell like that, I feel…because…” Other “No” oriented questions include, “Would it be ridiculous for me to ask…?” “Do you not want us to resolve this?” Using this technique shows empathy and gets you to a “yes” by asking for a “no.”
“I” messages and “No” oriented questions…outstanding fire-fighting techniques when you are under attack.
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