Most of us have had annoying experiences with people who just rub us the wrong way; this is a common occurrence. There are also those who you can always count on to take a meeting off track.

As an example, let’s say you are in a sales meeting with several others. You might be running the sales meeting, or you might be a participant. A team member’s participation is minimal and they are making lots of noise, doodling on the margins of the meeting agenda, sighing, and rolling their eyes. He or she is not contributing to the discussions, and you are becoming increasingly annoyed. What can you do to put a stop to this pattern? Well, you have two choices: you can resent them or you can clear it up. Clearing it up is challenging because almost all of us have an innate fear of confrontation. Based on that, the following is a six-step process that will help you deal with any type of confrontation and help you to tell almost anything to almost anyone, with a high degree of elegance and finesse.

The first step is to support the relationship. In the example of the business meeting, you might say:

(1) “You know, Teresa, when you come to the sales meetings, I really look forward to your feedback and your input. You often provide real value.”

Continue by asking for permission to speak to them about the issue by saying:

(2) “But there’s still something I would like to discuss with you that seems out of the ordinary. It is bothering me and I would like to talk to you about it.”

(3) “Is now a good time, or should we talk later?”

Often, the person will agree to the discussion.

Once they agree to a discussion, the next step is to explain the situation:

(4) “What I’ve noticed is that, in the last three meetings, you have been distracting the rest of us by clicking your pen, fidgeting with your papers, and so on. I felt disrespected. I felt like you didn’t want to be part of the team anymore.”

It is important to use the first person as much as possible with phrases such as “I feel” instead of “You made me feel”. When you talk to somebody about something that bothers you, the statement “You made me feel” is really an accusation and an indictment of that other person. By making this statement—and this is very common—you make them responsible for your feelings; only you are powerful enough to manage your feelings.

Use of first person language makes all the difference. After you’ve explained the situation, you need to give the other person the permission to give you full feedback. You might say:

(5) “What do you think, Teresa? What is the situation from your point of view?

(6) “I promise no matter what you say, I won’t be annoyed, I’ll simply say thank you.”

Why is that reassurance so important? When people ask for feedback but don’t receive what they want to hear, many react negatively. Saying, “I promise whatever you say, I will be neutral and simply say thank you” creates a sense of safety. One thing I know about working with adults in numerous learning environments over the years is that they will not be receptive towards what you say, no matter how brilliant or valid, if they feel attacked. We cannot criticize or shame anyone into success or change.

In this example, with the permission to be honest, Teresa might say to you:

“The truth is that you do have good ideas but you reiterate them over and over. When I hear an idea once, I get it, and when you keep repeating them it bores me and insults my intelligence. Consequently, I lose attention and I should have told you about that earlier but I just finally got fed up.”

When we are on the receiving end of critical feedback, it is tough to take in but the only correct response is to say, “What should the next step be? What would your advice for me be?” And whatever feedback that person gives you, do not react defensively. Instead say, “Thank you for sharing with me. Is there anything else?” When you go through this systematic process, it is almost impossible for someone to become or stay mad at you.

This article is an excerpt from my upcoming publication:

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Sara Haynes, P. Eng.
Sigma Solutions

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