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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

If You've Said This, You Sound Defensive

      "Lillian, you could probably get more cooperation from Janice if you requested her help with this project rather than demanded it," said Gill.
      "I don't make demands," Lillian protested quickly.
      "Actually, you do," he countered.  "I heard you say to her that she needs to get you the inventory list in the next half hour.  You also said, 'Check your emails for my last update on the client'  instead of speaking to her directly.  For goodness' sake, she works right across the hall from you."
      "Well, the only reason I said it like that is because Janice acts like she doesn't understand the urgency in what we're doing.  She's dragging her feet."
      "But that doesn't give you the right to be condescending and rude," said Gill.  "She doesn't report to you.  You two are coworkers.  I'm the manager."
      "I'm not being rude," Lillian countered.  "If she got offended, then she took it the wrong way.  She needs to get thicker skin.  I'm not going to baby her.  She's a grown woman, and I don't have time to coddle delicate feelings."

       If you've ever been in this kind of verbal tug-of-war, you know how frustrating it can be to try to show someone when they've behaved badly.  Regardless of how clearly you point out their infraction, they will defend, deflect, and justify their actions.  It sounds like: "No I didn't" or "The reason why I did it was because she or he..." or "What's wrong with me doing that?"  Then when you're ready to yank your hair out one strand at a time and practically scream "Stop being defensive", they will defend themselves by saying "I'm not being defensive". 
       If you happen to be one of those people who doesn't recognize when you sound defensive, then pay attention to these four clues.  And don't say that you don't do these because that would mean you're being what?  Defensive!
      Clue #1--You deny whatever you're being accused of without consideration.  When you don't stop to think that you could possibly have done what you're being told, then that means you've moved quickly on the defensive.  Defensive people are often reactive.  They don't readily consider their behavior.  They hear correction and immediately reject it.  They don't want to be told they're wrong or accused so the first response is denial.
      Clue #2--You blame others.  You will often shift blame to someone or something else rather than hold yourself accountable for your actions.  You close your mind to any other reasoning than your own, even if someone else can show you how you're dead wrong and culpable.
      Clue #3--You justify your behavior as if it's okay to do something wrong as long as you can explain it.  You're saying that your bad behavior was necessary.  Whoever or whatever got hurt in the process deserved whatever they got, and you can prove it.
      Clue #4--You deflect.  Rather than dealing with the issue, you blow it off and turn the tables on the person who's making the accusation.  It sounds like, "What about you?  You do the same thing."  And then you begin to bring up the faults of the other person rather than deal with your own.
      If you've ever done any of these, then you sound defensive.  Your language is an instant "It's not my fault" and "That's not my responsibility".  Don't overlook the fact that what you did or didn't do was unacceptable.  Regardless of how much explanation you put on it to try to convince others to see your side, that doesn't automatically make you right.  You shouldn't think it's okay to behave badly and that a simple denial or excuse will let you off the hook.  Change your language to reflect contrition, accountability, and most importantly, respect for others' feelings.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

When People Go Too Far: 3 Ways to Draw the Lines

Your relationship with your significant other, your finances, your personal space—all of these are areas where people who are not welcomed may cross over and offend you. Unfortunately, most people don't know they've crossed the line until after they've done it. Few of us have the luxury of laying out beforehand where the boundaries are, and it's not until someone has breached that boundary that we have to say something. Unfortunate still is that few of us will say anything because we don't know how. It's an uncomfortable conversation to have. Even though we're the ones that have been offended in the matter, we worry about if we will offend the other person by telling them about it. We ask ourselves: Am I being too sensitive? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Am I asking people to be too politically correct?

I acquiesce that some of us may be a bit too sensitive about certain situations. We read far too much into the intentions behind the actions. For example: A recent news story reported that a woman was offended by gift wrap in a store because the design had swatikas in it. She wanted it off the shelf. I have to admit, until I examined the paper extra close, I saw no evidence of it. When I could finally make it out, it did not strike me that there was some hidden message in the design as an affront to Jews. (The woman was Jewish and was looking for paper to wrap gifts during Hanukkah when she saw it.)

Nonetheless, when we feel someone has violated the boundaries we've set for ourselves, we have to help them see where those boundaries are. If I'm an extremely private person, and my friend decides to tell my address to someone she knows but I perceive as a stranger, then I may feel she's crossed a line. I have to let her know that I'd like to keep where I live private. This may sound overly sensitive to the friend, but it is my preference when it comes to what's personal to me. Others need to respect that.

One of the most important areas where lines need to be defined is when we communicate with each other. For some people, it's okay to have a volley with another person using coarse language and crass jokes. But for another, they may find the content and language offensive. They have the right to let people know that that kind of conversation doesn't work for them, especially in a work environment. If a manager gets angry and pounds the table and yells at his team, some people may not like it but think it's okay because they would do the same. Still, there are others who may feel that as adults, they don't appreciate being yelled at as if they are children. They expect the same respect from their manager as they offer to him. The manager has crossed a line. They may feel reluctant, however, to let him know because the manager has created a culture of strained silence. Keeping quiet can contribute to making their relationship insincere and shallow.

So how do we let people know when they've gone too far? Here are three ways to consider:
  1. Call the person aside one-on-one and address the situation immediately. Say: "I realize you may not know this about me, but I take my religious beliefs very seriously. When you make jokes about my faith, I find it offensive. I get it that you don't share the same beliefs as I, but I would appreciate it if you considered that some topics are too important to others to devalue. In the future, would you refrain from joking about my religion in front of me?"

  2. Acknowledge to them that you understand they meant no harm and may not have been aware of your sensitivity to their action. Notice in the prior example it states: "I realize you may not know this about me." Everyone's intent is not malicious. They simply didn't know where the line was.

  3. Be direct and clear about what you expect from them when faced with this situation in the future. In the above example you see: "In the future, would you refrain from joking about my religion in front of me?" Notice the speaker isn't saying the person can't joke about their religion at all. The speaker isn't censoring the joker's freedom to speak. The speaker is asking that the joker refrain from his or her actions in the speaker's presence. It's a matter of respecting other people's views in sensitive matters.

    The tricky part of most of this is that there are numerous lines, and different people draw them in different places. Sally may be a hugger, but her coworker, Leesa, doesn't like people invading her personal space which has a circumference of about a foot. Tiffany may not mind sharing all of her marital business with the office, and Megan shares hers in turn. But when Tiffany starts asking Jeremy questions about his marriage, he may feel she's getting too personal. So how do you know where all of the lines are?

    The answer and others will be further discussed in a FREE 30-minute webinar on February 10th at 10 a.m. EST. If you are interested in participating, click here to register. You will receive follow-up information on how to join the conversation. Until then, give people permission to let you know where their lines are. This will make communicating with them less stressful because now you know where not to tread, and talking won't be like walking through a minefield.