Taking Your Stage Blog  
  Helping you improve the communication skills of the leaders and teams in your organization.  

2 items categorized "Difficult People"


Telling "The Third Story"

IStock_000001056012_webI looked at the time.  Just 5 minutes before I was to teach communication skills in conflict management with Hippo Solutions to a group of employees at a company in Franklin, Tennessee.

Since I had a few minutes to spare, I checked my email.  Wow- what timing!  A friend had just sent a distressed message, forwarding on an email she had sent to a client, asking me what she had done wrong. The client had called her on the phone spewing a verbal firestorm, saying her "tone" in her email was totally out of line.

I looked at what she had written.  She had started the email by defending herself, stating her perspective of something they had discussed earlier.  Right out of the gate she had shot herself in the foot (how's that for two idioms in a row?).

I hurriedly wrote her back.  "It's best to have these kinds of conversations in person or at least on the phone.  Email often doesn't relay our 'tone' accurately.  In any case, you might want to try starting your conversation by showing that you believe the best about him, stating something you can both agree on."

It was exactly what I was about to teach.  Advisors from The Harvard Negotiation Project in their book Difficult Conversations recommend that we start from "The Third Story."  Instead of starting from The First Story, your story, in which you would say, "I think you are wrong," or from The Second Story, in which you would say, "I know you think you are right," try starting from The Third Story.

Whether it's a tough conversation with a coworker or your spouse, the Third Story is the story you can both agree on, the story which starts, "You and I both want this relationship to work," or "We both want to keep this customer," or "You and I both love our kids."  In so doing, you start by affirming the other person as having good intentions and paint the picture of the two of you on the same team working together to solve a problem.

Then you can clarify, "It seems like we have different perspectives on this.  I would like to hear yours and share mine with you, too."  (Of course, you would say all of this in your own words so it won't sound like it came directly out of a textbook.)

After I finished teaching the session to my captive audience, I checked my email.  My friend had decided to call her client.  Not surprisingly, he call-screened her, so she left him a message.  If he gives her another chance and calls her back, I have a feeling he's going to hear her begin the conversation with a much better story- The Third Story.




5 Ingredients to Working with Difficult People

IStock_000017265087_webA while back I was working with a person acting as a project manager with a large client of ours.  I soon discovered that no one liked this person which was affecting buy-in for the whole project.  Everyone felt this person was dictatorial and didn't listen to other ideas for doing things.  Over time, I was able to work well with this person and develop relationships with the people around the organization to foster buy-in.  You have probably been in a similar situation - it's not a matter of having extraordinary communication ability, you simply have to learn to work with difficult people.  You find a way.  I thought through that experience and while there are specific techniques that we can use with difficult people, I came up with five key ingredients we must have first when dealing with difficult people.

Our motive...peace.  Fostering a peaceful relationship (that gets the job done), not proving ourselves right.

Our tactic...service.  Sincerely seeking ways to help the difficult person, not focusing on what's wrong and unreasonable.

Our strategy...perseverance.  We go the extra mile if that's what it takes to win over the person and create a productive, peaceful relationship.

Our approach...soft and silent.  We speak softly and say as few words as possible when someone is angry and unreasonable.  We don't match their tone, volume, and word count which quickly escalates into a no-win situation.

Our super power ingredient...humility.  We don't mind if someone else gets the credit, instead of insisting that we come out looking good.

While there is no guaranteed 1-2-3 process to work with difficult people (they are people after all), it is amazing how often those key ingredients have worked to create productive peace and reduce strife.