Arguments or disagreements occur daily in most work environments. Are you a leader who embraces the opportunity to compete and tries to win the day? Do you prefer to avoid any volatile situations by keeping your views to yourself? Maybe you evade anyone who might disagree with you. These approaches won’t mediate the differing viewpoints or solve the initial problem.
The judicious use of questions can be an effective way to calm a conversation where you are feeling accused. Instead of defending your turf, be open to new discoveries and ways of seeing the world.
Here’s how it might look.
- When you are feeling accused, ask for specifics without being defensive. Say something like, “Can you share an example that illustrates your point?” Forcing the accuser to offer details instead of generalities makes it easier to evaluate and verify their facts. Then you can demonstrate openness to their feedback by asking for suggestions that address their concerns.
- If your personal values or beliefs are the issue, again seek to learn. It’s hard not to defend when a deeply held conviction is being challenged. It’s even harder if their tone is accusatory or they are using terms like “hypocrite” or “liar.” Asking, “What troubles you about my position on (fill in the blank)?” is a better approach. Even if the accuser’s attack is a rebuke of your position, you will diffuse the emotion and give yourself time to formulate a reasoned response.
- When anger is on display, remind yourself not to fuel the fire. Matching their intensity with an outburst of your own won’t solve anything. Perhaps you should call a “time out” so both of you can calm down. You could then suggest starting the conversation over. If you can maintain your composure, attempt to ask questions that show you are willing to listen and find a solution.
- If the disgruntled co-worker or client becomes apathetic and resigned (“I guess there is nothing we can really do.”), ask more questions and wait quietly for them to respond. Say something like, “I sense that you are still unhappy. Tell me more about how you are feeling and what I can do to help.” Uncovering their basic issues shows how much you care.
End the conversation with some written commitments that clarify what will happen next. What will you do? What will they do? When will you do it? This level of follow-up is as important as the previous strategies to handle the immediate situation.
Learning and letting go are key shifts in thinking when you are feeling accused.
Finally, agree on a plan for how to approach future disagreements. How will you assume positive intent? What will happen when your viewpoints differ? How might you lower the emotional level?
The fervor of accusations (true or false) can challenge any leader. That’s why adopting a fact-finder mode and asking questions is a useful tactic. It diffuses some of the emotion and helps you, the accused, resist the temptation to try and win the argument or run for the hills.
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