Rarely a day goes by when you don’t have to confront someone about their actions, or lack there of. It could be an employee who missed another deadline, a child who did not complete her homework, a co-worker who made inappropriate comments, or a counterpart in a negotiation who intentionally misled you. Our goals in these situations often include getting the truth, learning our counterpart’s motivation and positively affecting future behavior – without damaging the relationship.
There is one small adjustment that will have a giant impact on these conversations – stop saying the word you. As counter intuitive as this may initially seem it will make a world of difference in the outcome of your conversations. When people are in a defensive position the word you strikes like a bullet aimed directly at their self-image carrying connotations of responsibility, judgment, disappointment and failure. These connotations trip your counterpart’s defense system and immediately cause them to feel the need to protect their self-image and defend themselves against the unstated accusations.
Think about how hearing the following statements might make you feel:
- You missed another deadline.
- Explain to me why you didn’t do your homework again.
- I’ve been told you’ve made some inappropriate comments.
- You continue to mislead me.
It’s quite likely these statements would cause you to feel the need to defend yourself, whether the assertions are correct or not. The majority of people have positive self-images. They see themselves as smart, hard working people with good ideas. When they don’t act in accordance with this image, cognitive dissonance sets in and they create reasons to sync self-images with their actions. It’s a beautiful process that results in people feeling good, or at least accepting, whatever it is they’ve done.
You can avoid much of the early resistance you face in contentious conversations by working with cognitive dissonance rather than against it. On of the ways you can accomplish this is by speaking in the third person. Speaking in the third person allows people to receive the same message without feeling singled out, attacked, judged, or forced to defend themselves.
Think about how hearing the following statements would make you feel:
- There are lots of reasons why people miss deadlines…
- I know the last thing kids want to do is homework…
- Sometime people think they are being funny and they don’t realize other people may be offended…
- I think people sometimes feel the need to mislead others when they negotiate…
Say the word you, pull the trigger and take a shot right at your counterpart’s self image. It’s like choosing to run through a brick wall when you have an opportunity to walk around it. By speaking in the third person you will limit the amount resistance you cause. Maintaining relationships, getting to the truth and impacting future behavior is hard enough. Don’t make it any harder than it needs to be.
Michael Reddington, CFI is an executive resource, the president of InQuasive, Inc. and the creator of the Disciplined Listening Method. He teaches leaders from all industries and specialties how to apply strategic, ethical persuasion techniques in all of their conversations. To learn more contact Michael directly at +1 (704) 256-7116 or firstname.lastname@example.org.