Think about the last time you were upset, so ripping mad you could scream. Now think about the words and language you told yourself or others. Did your language become more, um, er … “colorful”? Was it exceptionally emotive and passionate? Did it make a sailor blush? (No offense to sailors).
There’s a time and a place for just about every type of language and vocabulary.
Chatting with friends or a confidante, go ahead and let it all hang out. Vent until your heart is content. However, when it comes to matters of the workplace, choose your words carefully. Once you say them, they can’t be unsaid. Sure, you can apologize, make a joke of it, treat it as lightly as possible, and that might work. It might not. Just like trying to unscramble eggs, there are no undoing words that have been spoken. They will hang in the air and affect relationships and reputations.
Before someone lashes out and says something inappropriate, there’s usually an event or series of events leading up to this climax. It’s often a small incident that triggers what seems to be an overreaction. Here’s the key:
COMMUNICATION TIP: speak out when you are still in control
Sometimes, you’re upset and you tell yourself to say nothing. You squish down the anger, the sadness, the disappointment. You tell yourself to suck it up and move forward. Yet, deep in your heart, that “something” still bothers you. It keeps you up at night. It consumes your free moments. You find yourself fantasizing about really telling a person off. You have make-believe conversations to this irritating workmate as if he or she were standing beside you and you were saying what’s really on your mind … and boy, do you! These are all signs that you’re reaching a limit. Address the issue before a straw breaks the camel’s back and you snap. Be aware when something is bothering you, and then (this is the tough part), manage the situation.
Like many tough times in life, it boils down to you having three choices:
CHOICE #1) accept it (which means that truly, in your heart, you’re OK with the situation, the person, the status quo. You have no more right or compunction to complain)
CHOICE #2) change it (change your reaction, how you respond)
CHOICE #3) leave (remove yourself from the situation or irritant)
Suppose you choose to “change it”, to do something about how you are reacting. It might be that there’s someone in your life you need to speak to, candidly. You know if you do it wrongly, you’ll blow the relationship. And (here’s the catch) you need that person in your life. Try this …
- Write your response. Draft your response, let the emotions pour … then go back and edit them out. Get rid of all the superlatives and excessive passion. Choose the rational, calm, and logical approach to communicating your concerns.
- Give yourself time. If you need some down time, a few moments, hours or days to assess and respond professionally to a disturbing situation, then take it. If someone is waiting for your response, let them know you’re working on it and when he or she could reasonably expect your answer.
- Present your viewpoint without the emotion. Use neutral language and stick to the facts. In doing so, you’ll increase the chance that your message will not only be heard, but that the recipient will actively listen and consider what you are saying.
When your message is swimming in a river of emotion, it may well get swept away. That doesn’t serve you well at all. The only thing your colleagues will remember is your emotion, not the message. Strong language evokes equally strong responses. Sticking to the facts, using neutral language, speaking in a non-accusatory way is the quickest way for you to get to the bottom of the situation. It’s this style of communication that will position you as the professional you truly are.
Remove excessive emotion, and increase the probability that your message will be received loud and clear, and your relationships will stay in tact.
©MarionSpeaks originally published August 23, 2011, updated July 12, 2020 Marion Grobb Finkelstein
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