I think we’ve all had that situation where on the other end of the phone, somebody has torn a strip off of us. You know the kind of convo. Where harsher words, tones and accusations are stronger. Most likely because you’re not standing face-to-face with that person. Even in the virtual world, when we have our videos off or even if they’re on, not physically being in the same room with each other changes the dynamics a little. At least, this has been my experience.
We can all have lapses in greatness.
There are moments when it’s hard to see others’ greatness, including your own. These moments need not define us or our relationship with the other person.
I have been seeing posts by brilliant, talented, positive, optimistic, and super humanistic leaders and business owners sharing how frustrated and stressful these interactions are. I wanted to share a few thoughts about what I do in these circumstances. I hope this helps, and I really hope you would also add in the comment section what else you would recommend and what works for you.
What to do when Greatness goes on holiday?
Something that has helped me is my mantra taught to me by the solution-focused guru (and my co-author of Forever Recognzie Others’ Greatness) Brenda Zalter-Minden: “a complaint is a poorly worded request”
If I were able to dig behind the hostility and honour the greatness, however very well hidden, we can often shift the convo to get better results (ie. “it sounds like you are very passionate about quality!”). Sometimes that calms things down by recognizing greatness even when the person is unresourceful at that moment (and not seeing their own greatness).
If you want an exercise that will help you or others to practice dealing with people who complain, moan, and stay stuck in a victim or villain story, you may want to try the Complain, Complain, Complain exercise. (At this time it’s on the Cool Stuff page of this website and if you have The FROG Effect Workbook you will see it there.) In essence, listening only for greatness and not attending specifically to the complaint at that moment allows you to hold the space while the person is not at their best and you can help them to be more resourceful if you stay with them, suspending judgement and not jumping into problem-solving mode.
In other words, when someone is blowing their emotional stack, listening only for their greatness and commenting only on that greatness is your core and focused goal. No one can find a solution when emotionally flooded. The reward (for you and them): on average within three minutes, the emotional tempo goes down. It’s just too darn much work for an individual to stay at that high emotional octane for an extended period of time, particularly when you’re not stoking their fire. Who wants to feel out of control and angry? You’ve helped them to gracefully recover, regroup and perhaps even feel “healed” in the same conversation through you acknowledging greatness when they haven’t been at their best.
If despite your best efforts, if this advice doesn’t help, the next step might be to “take a knee.” Leave the convo, take some deep breaths and honour the power of the pause.
Try a redo, as long as the person wasn’t downright disrespectful (in a toxic way). It allows you to disentangle from emotions that are not serving you or them well. It allows you to get back to a place where you can complete the sentence: “I believe this person was doing the best they could then….” And that includes you. That you’re doing the best you can and were in that moment. Sometimes this gives you the motivation to try again.
That being said, we never deserve to be treated badly, and putting up clear boundaries of how that behaviour was unacceptable and that further convos will not involve X, Y and Z (insert what you are not okay with and is inappropriate). If the person won’t honour it, it might be time to make some tough choices.
What other strategies can you recommend that work even some of the time? And if you have a follow-up question, please pop it in the comments below.
Here are some other resources to help you have even more productive conversations:
- Welcome to Your Tough Conversations Check-up
- Authentic Meaningful Conversations
- How to Deal with Emotions at Work and Beyond