Talk to a senior citizen about changes they’ve seen in communication the last 75 years, and you’ll hear dismay in their voices. They’ll describe a time when a child would never even dream of sassing back a parent, and an employee would never think of using the coffee break as a time to rip apart the boss. They’ll describe a time when respect for elders and respect for authority were simply a given.
Unfortunately, times have changed. Common courtesy is not so common anymore. Disrespect has flourished, and in some cases, disrespect is esteemed as a sign of cleverness or assertiveness.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Disrespect is still as dehumanizing and inappropriate as ever.
Obviously, there are times you’ve got to confront others. But disrespect is not the way to go. So how do you get through a conflict … respectfully and constructively?
I address that in my new program, The Power of Partnership: 7 Keys to Better Relationships and Greater Teamwork. You can get outline of the program by clicking here, should you want to bring me onsite to deliver the program in person.
Here are a few tips, however, that will help you resolve any interpersonal problem.
1. Think before you speak.
Take time to cool down and gather your thoughts. After all, the first screw that often works loose in a person’s head is the one that holds the tongue in place. You need to make sure that your comments are going to be helpful rather than rude.
2. Be direct.
Forget the hinting, indirect approach. It seldom works.
I remember one woman who talked about a light bulb going out in her ten-foot high kitchen ceiling. All week she mentioned the problem to her husband. She even tucked a flashlight under her chin while doing dishes to give him a hint. Finally she yelled, “Why haven’t you replaced the bulb!?” He said, “You didn’t ask me.“
On a personal level, men and women often have difficulty hearing what the other wants if they don’t receive a clear, direct request. The same is true with coworkers.
So try this. To be direct, say, “I have a problem.” Explain why you’re upset, and then say what you’d like the other person to do to be of help.
3. Refrain from sarcasm.
It makes the other person the butt of your jokes and the object of your scorn. It puts him down instead of lifting him up, and that will always make your interpersonal problems more difficult to resolve.
Of course, this may not be an easy tip to follow. If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve been brainwashed into thinking sarcasm is okay. After all, almost every TV sitcom and reality program has glamorized sarcasm as cute, clever, and funny, and so you hear one put down after another.
Just last night, for example, as I was looking for something to watch on TV, I heard one character in a program tell another, “I’ll try being nicer if you’ll try being smarter.“
Flipping through the channels I heard numerous examples of sarcasm. One man said, “I don’t have an attitude problem. You have a perception problem.“
On another program, a woman said, “Love is blind, but marriage is a real eye opener.” Her partner responded, “Love is grand but divorce is a hundred grand.“
Some of the commercials are just as bad, using sarcasm that implies disrespect. One ad for a plumbing company said, “Don’t sleep with a drip. Call your plumber.” I admit it was clever, but I also wondered about the put downs some spouses might give each other when their attempted home repairs don’t work out.
So refuse to use sarcasm, no matter how clever you sound or how much you want to say it. Sarcasm may be okay for the sitcoms and the occasional laugh, but just remember, sitcoms aren’t reality. In the world you and I live in, sarcasm only makes things worse.
4. Stay professional.
Even when the other person doesn’t deserve it, even if the discussion is not going too well, continue to behave respectfully. Not only will you feel good about yourself afterwards, but it also works most of the time.
Just make the decision to speak with decorum no matter how angry or frustrated you are. If you let yourself blow up, people will not feel safe around you. Their fear of your unpredictability will keep them at a distance or ducking behind psychological walls. And, if that happens, nothing will ever get resolved.
If you have difficulty staying professional, try this. The next time you feel like you’re losing it, see your situation as a chance to practice self-control. Remind yourself that the more you practice the better you’ll get. You’ll find it easier to remain calm when the tension is high.
Just make sure you resist the very tempting, almost overwhelming desire to fight fire with fire. It’s like the fellow who was seated in the movie theater when a large woman wanted to be seated in his row also. The man stood up so she could get through, but she stepped on his foot.
The man screamed in pain and said, “Why don’t you look where you’re going?“
The large woman turned on him. “Why don’t you,” she huffed, “put that foot of yours where it belongs?“
“Don’t tempt me, lady,” snapped the man. “Don’t tempt me.“
You need to stay professional, and you need to…
5. Work towards understanding.
In most conflict situations, it’s very easy to get sucked into an argument as to who’s right and who’s wrong. Don’t do it. It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t matter. Oftentimes, both parties are “right.”
For example, if I hold up a glass of water in front of my audience and ask them what they see, I’ll get a variety of answers. Some will say it’s half full, and others will say it’s half empty. Someone else will say it’s a glass while another one says it’s a tumbler. Of course they would all be “right.”
Instead of wasting your energy on who’s right, work towards understanding instead. And one of the best ways to do that is to use the three magical words, “Help me understand.” Those words will help the two of you move closer to resolution.
As you do that, clarify, clarify, and clarify some more. Don’t assume anything. When you’re not exactly sure of something, seek clarification until you are. Paraphrase each other’s comments, asking such things as “Are you saying… So what you want is…?“
Final Thought: People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.