What’s the difference between a reaction and a response? About 23 seconds. And a plethora of options. Conflict resolution techniques can help you defuse a potentially explosive situation, and give you time to tap into your effective communication skills. This article gives you eleven possible responses to a difficult situation and recommends reasonableness.
When someone throws a ball at you, what do you do?
Chances are, when someone throws a ball at you, you catch it reflexively. And if you toss it back, chances are you toss it back in the same way they threw it to you. If they tossed the ball gently, you probably toss it back gently. If they toss it to you hard, you toss it back hard. If they toss it so hard you think they’re trying to hurt you, you just might throw it back hard enough to hurt them – and a friendly game of catch becomes a vicious game of hardball. Unless conflict resolution techniques come to the rescue and remind you that you have options.
Communication is like playing catch. Most of us automatically catch every conversational ball we’re thrown, and throw each one back in the same way we get them. Sometimes that works – and sometimes it doesn’t.
A false accusation puts an ugly spin on the ball
If someone puts an ugly spin on the ball, respond, don’t react. Don’t let someone who is acting from ego or personality bring you down to a reaction. Respond instead. Transform the dynamic.
After years of a casual friendship, Nora assumed a good level of trust with Jennifer. That’s why she was surprised to receive an email from Jennifer that said,
“I just found out you’re hiring another realtor for the sale of your company’s property. I can’t believe you didn’t send the deal my way since I’ve expanded my brokerage services into commercial property in the past few years.”
Nora felt affronted. She had no idea that Jennifer practiced commercial real estate. Nora had assumed that she would have heard something about it if she did. Further, although she respected Jennifer as a realtor and had thrown business her way over the years, she did not appreciate the expectation that she be obligated to use Jennifer.
Nora wished she had asked Jennifer if she practiced commercial real estate before she referred the business to someone else. Had she known, she would have offered Jennifer the listing. But she hadn’t known, and was too far into negotiations with another realtor to want to change.
A plethora of response choices
How could Nora respond? How do YOU deal with anger? She – and we – have many options. Here are eleven. They TRANSFORM the dynamic, which is the second step of the SpeakSTRONG Method.
Give them what they want. Nora could apologize and appease Jennifer by switching realtors.Apologize: Say you’re sorry. Nora could apologize for the omission without changing realtors. Witness: Listen to what they say without responding. Let them vent. Nora could invite Jennifer to vent and actively listen to her complaints.
Address misconceptions, ignoring the offensiveness of their expression. Nora could inform Jennifer she was unaware she had expanded her business.
Communicate the impact of what someone said. Nora could tell Jennifer how offensive she found her words.
Point out the error in the accusation. This is similar to educate, but it puts more focus on the error. Nora could tell Jennifer she was wrong.
Ask questions about the intent and other confusing aspects of the communication. Nora could ask Jennifer if she was suggesting Nora knowingly overlooked her.
Ask for good will. Nora could remind Jennifer of how they have supported each other over the years and suggest they both give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Tell them what they’re doing wrong. Nora could charge Jennifer with being heavy-handed and unreasonable.
Call their move and raise them one. Nora could play a heavier hand than Jennifer did.
Cut them off. Nora could ignore Jennifer and cut off communication.
Work together to reach understanding. Nora could meet with Jennifer to seek mutual understanding.
Respond with the implication that the situation is less serious than implied. Nora could ignore the severity of Jennifer’s email and respond with a lighter tone in an attempt to de-escalate the conversation.
Fight to win. Nora could gather every criticism of Jennifer she ever had and apply every bit of power she had to “take Jennifer out.” (Not a serious option. Sorry.)
Pick your approach
These approaches are not mutually exclusive. In an email you might use one or two, but in a discussion you will be able to switch between the approaches from exchange to exchange. That’s one reason why the phone or face-to-face communication is better.
Determine your approach based your goal and the communication history. Don’t determine your approach by their approach. In other words, you don’t have to catch every ball someone throws you, and if you do, you get to decide how you will throw it back.
Don’t let them mountainize your molehill
Nora was ready to throw Jennifer a hard ball until she got help from her friend Patrice. Patrice reminded Nora that just because Jennifer seemed to overreact, it doesn’t mean Nora needed to overreact, too. Patrice suggested that Nora had made a simple omission, and she didn’t need to feed the issue by matching Jennifer’s intensity.
Nora chose to try to mitigate the situation by responding with a friendly email explanation. (She chose email because in her mind, this was a simple matter, and simple matters are easily handled via email.) Jennifer responded with a list of reasons why Nora should have known she was practicing commercial real estate.
Nora was ready to escalate again, but she called Patrice first. Patrice reminded Nora that this was still just a simple omission, not high on the Richter scale. Nora still didn’t need to match Jennifer’s intensity. “But now I’m angry!” Nora said. “So let reasonableness be your revenge,” Patrice replied. “Stand back from it. If she wants to turn this molehill into a mountain, that doesn’t mean you need to.”
Patrice’s words freed Nora. She decided to respond with the intensity she thought the situation deserved, and not to take her cues from Jennifer. She waited a few days and reassured Jennifer that she did not know, and had she known she would have offered her the business. Nora hit send, knowing that however Jennifer responded, she would be ready to respond in a way that SHE found appropriate. In other words, Nora would consider her options to not catch Jennifer’s next ball. If she did choose to catch it, she would return the ball in the way she thought appropriate. As added assurance, Nora did put Patrice’s phone number on speed dial.
Respond, don’t react
Character-based Communicators respond instead of react. What does that mean? It means they don’t act reflexively. They consider options and chose the one that will get them the best results. They will consider conflict resolution techniques and find the option that aligns with their integrity.
Character-based Communicators choose their own response. And, as you can see, there are plenty to choose from. Some of the ones listed here are less noble than others. Those are the less effective ones. Others can defuse a potentially explosive situation, or even transform a problem into an opportunity and new beginning.