Do you avoid confrontation?
Do you fight or flee? Either way you lose...
Your spouse just said something that hurt your feelings.
Your boss made a request that seems out of line.
Your employee is not pulling his or her weight.
Your girlfriend is angry with you for a reason you don’t understand.
Your friend just offended you.
What to do?
Many of us feel at a loss as to what to do in these situations.
Should we just stuff our feelings inside and risk building up our resentment?
Should we try to avoid these people or situations in the future?
Should we give them the cold shoulder and hope they get the message?
Should we somehow confront the people involved and let them know how we feel, risking an argument or fight?
Each of these options leaves something to be desired.
The partnership approach: an example
Let me suggest a new option: the option of partnership. I’ll give you a simple example from my own experience to illustrate this approach and principle.
It was December of the year 2000 and I had decided to move from Tokyo to Shanghai, after living in Tokyo for a year.
I was staying at my friend Danny's apartment in Shanghai, while I was looking for an apartment to rent. Danny had another guest drop in from out of town to spend the night. He arrived less than an hour after I had. Danny was a generous guy.
How could he be so insensitive!
This guest immediately got on the telephone and started talking with one of his clients. His vocal volume was off the charts. He spoke as if he were shouting in a large stadium. I was irritated as was Danny. However, when I asked Danny if he were willing to speak to his friend about his loud voice after he got off the phone, Danny was unwilling to out of the fear of confronting or offending him.
With Danny's permission, once the guest was off the telephone, I said to him, “I have a problem that I hope you can help me with. Is it okay to tell you about my problem?”
He said, “Okay, sure.”
“Perhaps I am oversensitive, but the volume of your voice when you were on the phone automatically made me feel uncomfortable. I would really like to sleep here for the night and our host would like me to stay here too. But I am afraid that I will need to go to a hotel or another friend’s place if it is necessary for you to speak so loudly when you are on the telephone. I would appreciate any ideas you might have about how I could solve this problem?”
The guest immediately apologized. He said that many people had told him about his telephone volume, but each time he had been unaware that he was speaking so loudly.
I asked him, should it happen again, if I could have permission to give him a non-verbal signal of twitching my nose so that he could be aware of the need to lower his voice.
He said he would be very grateful if I did this.
I then told him that if he really wanted to break this habit, he should invite each person he spoke with on the telephone to help him by interrupting him in a playful way should he revert to his “loud mode." He thought it was a great idea.
I had no more problems during his visit. I didn’t have to twitch my nose even one time. I also noticed how good I felt about myself for choosing the courage to do this.
I felt good about my relationship with him. If I had not spoken up in the way that I did, even if he did not repeat his behavior during his visit, I would have had lingering resentment toward him.
Two fundamental keys are needed to craft how to speak up in situations like this.
Choose your words and tone of voice to invite partnership in solving the problem that is “out there,” instead of implying that the other person is the problem and they should change.
Choose your words and tone of voice so that no blame is placed on the other person. If anything, take the “blame” yourself, while inviting partnership to solve the problem. Avoid using any words or phrases that might be interpreted as "you did this to me" or "you're being unfair."
Honor yourself for choosing courage, not necessarily for getting a desirable result
No matter how well you craft your words, speaking in this manner will, for almost all of us, be a choice of courage. Honor yourself for that courage. Remember that courage exists independent of the outcome.
I've used this approach innumerable times, always with better results than I would have with either toleration or defense.
Ideas are useless if you don't use them
Ask yourself, “How could I use this ‘partnership approach’ in a situation where I have been putting up with something from someone important in my life?”
“Am I willing to choose courage to see what difference using this new approach might make for me and for others?”
Check out the Partnership Conversation.
"Defense is the first act of war."