It’s one thing to prepare for a speech or a presentation. The environment is controlled, and there are only so many variables we have to consider.
But what about when we’re in a meeting or a discussion, and something unexpected happens? Our idea is shot down, our expertise is questioned, or our leadership is challenged?
In those moments, most of us default to a set of behaviors we have often turned to in the past. Some of us may defend our position, doing whatever we can to demonstrate that we’re not in the wrong. Others come out more aggressively, perhaps putting the other person on the defensive. Still others might default to passivity, hoping that this storm will pass us by.
All of these behaviors lead to short-term results. We might defend our stance, make the other person back down, or deflect attention from ourselves, but do we shift anyone’s opinion? Create a change? Have we reconciled the actual issue?
When a moment like this arises, I recommend the following:
- Don’t say anything. Let a few moments go by while you pinpoint what your default behavior is telling you to do.
- Ask yourself what outcome those default behaviors might lead to.
- Think about the long-term outcome you hope for. Do you need everyone to work together? Do you hope the people in the meeting will support your project? Do you need to reassure someone?
- Act towards the long-term outcome, not the short-term one. Ask questions. Get clear about what’s going on. Really listen to what’s being said.
- In many cases, if you decide “I need that person to feel and know that we’re on the same side,” you’ll know just what to do. It’s not always in line with your long-term outcome, but when it is, it works surprisingly often.
- Even if the person who has blindsided you continues their behavior, stay focused on the long-term. They want to draw you into a disagreement, but you don’t have to follow them. You can promote an intentional discussion focused on outcomes.
Being intentional when we have controlled the variables is the easy part. Choosing intentional, productive communication in the Wild West of everyday conversation is a lot tougher! But since unscripted, improvised conversation is the primary way we communicate, it’s a skill well worth working on.