When You Don’t Think Before You Speak, (bad things can happen)

As I alluded to in my previous post, there is a time to lean into a disagreement a bit harder. I will always advocate for a kinder solution, one that leaves both sides of a conversation in a place where they can come back to the table and talk some more. Sometimes achieving that is not always going to be possible.

On occasion, kindness is accompanied by respectful anger and frustration. As professional communicators and or leaders, we are not allowed to be frustrated with a situation. We are not allowed to be angry with someone.

I call Bullshit!

This is real life and sometimes the situation just calls for some good old fashioned controlled and honest frustration. You will see in the story below, as long as your foundation is kindness and respect, if you are focused on outcomes and not personal attacks, anger and frustration can be used as tools in your toolbox when the moment calls for it.

Here’s The Sitch’

I had a recent incident with a Vice President of Operations for a bank here in the United States. I had been reaching out for days looking for answers to my questions. Every response was slow. When there was a response, it was a carefully scripted non-answer. UGH. I certainly understand the protections that organizations have in place. However, those protections, those “scripts” too often include being a cold and heartless voice on the end of a communication channel.

On this particular instance I had requested a call from the above individual and received crickets for days. Finally, at ten minutes to five, on a Friday, I received a call. On the other end was a person with an agenda. They had all the notes they needed to “tell” me that I had been given all the communication that I needed. Dates, times, and contents of emails. Dates and times of all their “timely” phone calls. This information was at their fingertips, locked and loaded to recite and use as proof that they owed me nothing. I continued to ask for clarifications that I had not received due to the short, canned responses of each person I communicated with during this process. My thinking here was that if I was able to speak with the “boss”, there would be a bit more information sharing on their end.

Critical Communication Error….

The person on the other end of the phone continued to cut me off, speak over me, talk down to me, and recite information that was not related to the questions I was asking for clarification on. She was not interested in listening, but telling me what she had decided I needed to know. My voice is pretty deep and can sound angry. I am mindful of this. I am careful to begin new conversations with a slightly higher, friendlier, pitch of baritone. Also, as a man, I wanted to be sure that there was no indication that I “expected” to dominate the conversation. Both of the above are important and critical to a successful conversation. After several minutes of asking questions and attempting to counter her comments, I waited for my moment, interrupted her, and with a friendly but business approach asked her if she was going to let me finish my thoughts or just continue to interrupt me. The line went silent as I waited for a response. And then it happened. She offered a canned apology and amongst a plethora of reasons said she had taken a lot of difficult calls and was not in a great place to be on the phone.

I am thinking to myself, you said this and you are the Vice President of Operations!

Because I am good listener, (Dawn may argue this), I picked up on her reason/excuse, and regrouped for a very different type of interaction. See, up til now, I was willing to ask questions and provide space for the other person to have control of the conversation. Not any more.

I let her know in a very straight forward way, that since this is the first time that she was speaking with me, I expected to be treated with respect, professionalism, and the time needed to conclude our conversation. This changed the entire tone and I intentionally took collaborative control of the conversation.

What is collaborative control?

Great question as I just made this up. To me, this means that I have decided that I am the better communicator at this moment. In order to engage in a working conversation, I will to direct myself, and the person on the other end, to “collaborate” on a conclusion. The other person did not have a strong set of tools to work with. It was my role to include her in the conversation without using the opening to “dominate” the conversation and “win”. I am always looking for teaching moments, I guess.

Be Present; Know When to Say When

The conversation took 30 minutes. While I did not get the impression that this person cared at all about me, the customer, I did manage commitments on a couple of things. After about 25 minutes, I recognized that moving forward was not going to result in any additional gains and decided it was time to conclude. A very important and mindful choice. To realize that “winning” was not an option and it was time to walk away with what I had. I directed us back to the beginning of our interaction looking to complete the call in a professional and respectful manner. I did not dislike this person, just the behavior that they displayed. I kindly explained to her that where we were, at the end, was all I was looking for when we began. I explained that at the outset of the call, her agenda was to treat me and my questions with hostility. She was prepared to speak with an angry person who was going to “demand” answers. Folks, her approach limited her ability to resolve a difficult conversation. She was mentally unable to problem solve. She was not interested in finding a solution but defending her position and her methods. She could not apologize enough. I can imagine that was to ensure that during a “this call may be recorded” conversation review, she was covered.

Those who do not know me will perhaps think that I relished at the opportunity to take control of this train wreck of a conversation. That is not the case. In fact, for much of it I felt my insides tremble with anxiety, anger, frustration, and a sense of being on constant high alert. Being skilled at searching for a successful resolution to conflicts does not mean that I enjoy or look forward to them. Preparation is key to these types of interactions. This prep is not limited to physical notes. It is being aware of my own feelings and emotions. It is a buzz word lately, but true mindfulness is where one will want to be in order to control your emotions.

My communication model, T-E-LL-A-R speaks to this.

The “T” is for think. Where am I, mentally and physically? What are my distractions? Why am I having this conversation and why is it important?

When I “E”ngage, I am wanting to get a feel for how the other party/parties, is/are going to interact with me.

“L”isten to “L”earn provided me with the patience to look for clues as to how I can best resolve an issue and finally;

“A”sk questions that will lead to a productive “R”esponse.

The Wrap Up

The timeline for close, on the part of the lending institution, was not anywhere near where they had committed originally. However, I am happy to say that my interaction did move the goal post up weeks from where they wanted it to be and perhaps prevented it from being moved back again. In 30 minutes of intense interaction, I was able to achieve some positive results. I could not go back and get what was lost. No amount of anger, or blaming was going to change that. My goal was to look forward and achieve the best result I could and prevent future damage, stress, and frustration.

Did I lose my cool? I did not. Again, I speak loud but usually not angry and I work very hard to ensure that it is not interpreted that way. As a strong communicator, it is my responsibility to ensure that the message I am encoding is the one being received(decoded) by the receiver. Dawn and I frequently eaves drop on each others professional conversations and then provide feedback. It has been a wonderful way for each of us to learn. Especially being able to collaborate with a strong female as Dawn is. At the end, feeling exhausted and looking to crack open my first beverage of the weekend, Dawn was genuinely impressed with my composure and professionalism. We talked about how she may have been able to approach the conversation different as a female. I was concerned if I may have raised my voice to a level that was unprofessional and disrespectful, but that was not the case. If I was being disrespectful, Dawn would be the first one to let me know.

Difficult conversations are a part of life and I am not perfect. If the agenda is to win, no one will. There is no win-win. To find success, each party must be willing to compromise. That is the real challenge of any complaint or conflict resolution.

As you reflect on past conversations that you have had, where did you err?

Was it in your initial approach?

Were you too emotionally charged at the time?

Being able to identify where your strengths and weaknesses are will help you debrief your interactions and make adjustments the next time. This communication especially takes practice, presence, and a strong sense of resolution versus rightness. I look forward to your feedback. Feel free to share interactions that you have had and what led to success for you.

May you be happy, healthy, and safe.


2 thoughts on “When You Don’t Think Before You Speak, (bad things can happen)

  1. I can see the downfalls of the phone operator working from a script where she assumed you/the caller would be combative and need to be spoken to apologetically and within the parameters of those “rules”. I think the person you spoke with was listening in able to respond rather than to hear you and work collaboratively with you on a happy outcome.

    As a telephone operator in my last job, I can relate to telling myself (silently) to be calm and respectful regardless of the abuse coming from the other end. That can be hard sometimes but it sounds like it’s something you are mindful of in your conversations. That’s awesome work xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Janet. I have a lot working against me between my voice being deep and loud. I work very hard to be respectful, not just of the person, but asking what their side of the conversation is and why do they feel that way. It sounds like from your experience you understand even the stress that is not addressed with these important members of our professional teams. It is a sad state that abusive, combative conversation on either end, is expected and accepted. It is a very different world that we all work in. I believe it is past time to bring kindness and respect into our workplaces. Thank you for the kind words.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: