If you ever have trouble speaking up, then this exercise is for you.
Often, when faced with someone who has just said something inappropriate or offensive, we clam up, unsure whether we are making a mountain out of a molehill. We don’t want to upset them or for the whole situation to escalate into an argument, so we just bite our lip and keep schtum.
But then we keep experiencing the emotions that were triggered every time that we think about what happened. We feel angry, upset, enraged about what was said, and disappointed in ourselves that we didn’t speak up and say: “that is not okay”.
So here is a simple structure you can use whenever this situation presents itself so that you can navigate challenging conversations safely and with impact.
Start with Heart
This means having the right intention with this conversation
Not to WIN the argument
Or to PUNISH the other person for what they said (or for what we made it mean in our head)
But rather, to have a conversation that creates more understanding between you both, that seeks to understand and to be understood.
Flag the Issue Assertively
In order to flag the issue assertively, we don’t want to beat around the bush, we just want to say our piece in a simple way, and then stop.
Say their name
Say what the problem is
And what the impact is that it has on you
“Jane, I’d rather you didn’t say that, it makes me feel disrespected”
“Graham, when you said that to me, it made me feel undervalued”
And often this is the only thing that you have to do, that’s it. You’ve been courageous, you’ve spoken up, and made sure that your voice is heard!
Deal with Defensiveness
Most of the time, the likelihood is that actually the perpetrator will just be embarrassed and apologise, but what if they get defensive?
When people become defensive, it’s rarely because of what you’re saying, it’s because they don’t feel safe; they fear that they are going to be humiliated or verbally attacked. So how can you help them to feel safe so that you can have this conversation calmly and reach a successful outcome?
Use ‘Don’t, Do, But’
A structure you can use to calm down any defensiveness is ‘don’t, do, but’. This structure lets you reassure the person that:
You don’t want to hurt them with what you’re saying
And that you do really value them as a person
But that you need to be heard on this issue because it is important to you
So it might go something like this:
“The last thing I wanted to do was to make you feel like you’re under attack, and I do really like working with you, but I really want to make sure that we’re building a working environment where everyone feels equal, valued, and respected.”
“My intention was absolutely not to upset you by saying this, and I think you are one of the good guys, but it’s really important to me that I feel able to say what I need to and to be heard.”
To be really clear, this is NOT apologising for what you said, but rather making sure that what you said didn’t impact them more than it needed to.