Reprinted with permission. This article originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review and is reprinted here with permission. Peter Bregman is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm which advises CEOs and their leadership teams. Peter has authored several books, most recently the award-winning 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. Peter can be reached through his website
Hang on.....We all have the same right to respect in our communication with others. Why should one person display understanding but decide to forgo their own need to be understood. I have no problem aknowledging the other persons reality but if they cannot aknowledge mine how is the 'relationship' any better. One person is still not being considered even if pne is happy. Thats not 2 people communicating effectively and communication . understanding and respect should be acceptable to both parties if its a good relationship. Whyvshpuld one persons rights be seen as unimportant.
The purpose that this article suggests is that crating a positive caring relationship is the most important goal. We don't get to choose what others feel, that is their reality and not for us to disagree with or judge. We get to choose how we will respond. Will it be with empathy and compassion or with defensiveness and/or counter attack?
A wonderful book that teaches more of these beautiful communication/relationship skills is Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (also known as compassionate communication) by Marshall Rosenberg. I highly recommend it to all who are interested in communicating with honesty and listening with empathy (both with others and with yourself).
I like the idea here of intentions versus consequences. I never looked at it that way. Very useful.
So, to summarize, it's simple but not easy: Start with "I'm sorry. That was my fault" (your feeling). Mean it! Then empathize with the other persons's feeling and situation. Do it authentically, don't extend it so it sounds manipulative. If he/she is ready to shift from emotion/threat response to content/facts, briefly explain what happened. It's important to understand if you've been just sloppy with your time management or anything else was more important, OR you had an important client meeting that unexpectedly lasted longer than planned. Later, show what you've learned and what you will do differently next time. And learn!
I disagree! The article may allow to diffuse the problem once, but this doesn't work for long-term. I agree that it is good idea to acknowledge their frustrations; this would calm the situation a bit and probably allow them to listen to a logically explanation. I think justifying our situation/logic is necessary. Frankly, the person (esp. women) will not forget this current situation regardless of you allowing to diffuse the problem by giving them priority. Next time, these situations will only make things worse; you will be blamed for making excuses at 'all the time', and the person may not even hear you at all this time. They make walk over you and berate you. Imagine being a woman, this may end up developing inferiority complex to sexual abuse to violence to suicide.
I must also say once a while compromises to your explanation to less volatile situations is very much necessary and worthy to save and even repair the relationship.
Overall, every relationship necessitates 'mutual understanding' that requires the clear truth. If only one person is willing to understand, others not...this won't last long.
Nonetheless, this article gave me another perspective of intention vs. consequences. Thank you![Hide Full Comment]
Nice article, great ideas. I can see how emphasizing with someone you've hurt or offended would definitely defuse the situation. Its hard to be mad when someone really understands how they have offended you and says so. Thats how good friendships are made. Most people would just keep defending themselves, leaving the other person to deal with the offense on their own. Again, GREAT article! I'll remember it and try it out next time this situation comes up.
Wooow now I sure understand what i did wrong.
Too bad i'ts only way to late :(
I have a totally different interpretation of the thesis as suggested of how to deal with wrongly mean-spirited attitudes and actions by another person. I've been involved in similar but different situations where the other person is functionally superior or equal (a manager / a bully) who has no intent of understanding a reasonable cause for my failure to perform to his/her expectations, i.e., not be late due to a client meeting, but simply uses the advantage of finding me wrong to exert or enhance his/her authority to continue their agenda of harassment.
I disagree that I should roll "belly-up" and accept blame and allow the unreasonable bully more ammunition to generate their own anger and berate me now and again in the future. Bottom-line: if the other person is so unreasonable as to not accept a logical cause for a situation that is in no manner my fault, they will continue to make my life hell (as I once allowed to happen, but never again...) Therefore it is time to have a closed-door heart-to-heart with the harassing person - - - after evaluating my options (Ethics Board, lawyer, job change, fist in their gut, retirement, etc.).
In no case, allow the actions/attitude by the harassing person to continue un-checked. If you are not at fault, your apologizing will not 'make it better' - the situation will only worsen. Relations with bullys and other unreasonable persons cannot be improved with apologies, they feed their sickness on the weakness of others. Life is too short and of too much value to be treated as a doormat.[Hide Full Comment]
If I had been sitting and waiting and someone told me “I see you’re angry. You’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes and that’s
got to be frustrating. And it’s not the first time. Also, I can see how
it seems like I think being with a client gives me permission to be
late. I’m sorry you had to sit here waiting for so long.” I think I would have gotten up and walked out! The first thing he should have said was "I'm sorry!"
The whole validation thing just always seems to come off as a way for the offender to cover their own butt instead of owning up to an error. And if this is a recurring offense, the words are worth even less.
This reminds me of an incident recently. I was struggling with my work/job and was ranting about wanted to quit/resign with my husband. He went on and told me that i'm not getting younger and it won't be easy to get a job if i were quit and our finances will be affected if i stopped working etc etc. it didn't help.
I told him I don't need him to tell me all these but his response was "then what for do you need to complain about it if you're not expecting my advice?" he went on saying he was 'trying to help' by giving advices and I was being stubborn not to listen to him. But he was insistent, "You're describing a problem and I'm analyzing it logically for you." Then I told him, "If i can't even tell you my troubles to seek comfort & support from you, we shouldn't even be having this conversation. I only need you to tell me that everything it's going to be ok and you're here with me. Your empathy works better than your advice."
You were at a meeting with a client. What the hell are you supposed to
do, tell the client "hey I gotta cut this short, hope you buy from me
anyway!" and run out the door?
It's clearly your fault that you
were late. I'll explain why, but not before establishing that a little
of the blame is on her hands too - she should be mature enough to
realize that avoiding the situation I just described is more important
than being on time for a family dinner. You start blowing off clients,
and your professional life is going to go down the crapper - then you
won't be able to pay the bills or take care of the kids and that's MUCH
worse than being late for some dinners.
That said, your being
late is your fault and you could have (and should have) avoided it. I'm
seeing two weak points in your skill set that caused this: complete lack
of planning skills, and lack of good salesmanship.
in planning / scheduling was that you didn't include enough buffer time
in between the meeting and the dinner. That's a big no-no: don't ever
plan your schedule in an optimistic manner. Keep blank spaces in your
day planner or suffer the consequences. You can always fill in the
blanks on-the-fly, but you cannot simply wave your arms and create more
time when you need it.
Your second mistake - the lack of
salesmanship one - involves not being open with your client. You should
have told your client, from the moment that you knew about it, that you
had a dinner with your wife at 7. There can be nothing negative that
comes from this: it makes your client realize that you're a good
wholesome family man, and also gives you a way to put time pressure on
the client during the meeting.
Every businessperson should know
that having the option of putting some pressure on a client - especially
"deadline" pressure such as this where you're reminding them that you
have a firm end time for the meeting - can speed up the whole process of
making a deal.
In short you need to man up, reign in your schedule, and start being more open with your business contacts.[Hide Full Comment]
Not to make this a gender issue, but it is interesting to note that the way the author suggests approaching these sorts of conflicts is a very traditionally feminine one--to empathize with and acknowledge/validate the feelings of the other person-- rather than the traditionally masculine approach of insisting on asserting one's ego to dominate the situation and/or "win" the argument . It is refreshing and hope-generating that this author presents a model for unifying two conflicting parties, rather than furthering duality and separateness by conquering. The fact that this article originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review gives one hope that real communication and cooperation skills can be taught on a large scale and on the corporate level. Let's see more of this in our world!
You make some good points, but I don't think that just because you're mad you have a blank check to disregard the other person's perspective. It does matter what someone's intention was, and it does matter what they actually did or did not do. Both parties have to be willing to open up and see it from the other side.
...Coool..., Wow.., this is soo valuable. "Intention vs. Consequences".., I am STILL living with the consequences, and noone ever did seem to care as much about my "intentions" as I did..(?!) This has always been a problem for me. It's scary to realize that I don't know what I don't know... Bless those who have gone before... "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we might oft win by fearing to attempt." - W.Shakespeare
Do we want to be right or do we want to be loving? Doesn't it usually boil down to that? You have shared some great wisdom and advice here. Thank you. It's so easy for a person to simply get stuck in an automatic defense mode. I've learned that starting with "My bad. So sorry!" can make for much happier relationships.
This is a very important article. So often in conflict we get caught up in maintaining our position and we fail to see how standing our ground--especially if we've hurt another--only serves to continue to frustrate, and more importantly, invalidate them. I've ended a long term friendship with a person who repeatedly exhibited a failure to understand how her negative and thoughtless behaviors impacted our relationship. She refused to acknowledge that she was ever capable of doing anything inconsiderate or hurtful and that refusal cost her a great friend. None of us are perfect and it takes a big heart and a kind soul to stop and think about how our behavior impacts others.
Many Buddhist monasteries maintain total silence with only a half hour break every day. During this half hour, many monks can be seen beating themselves while conversing with their fellow monks. The reason is that monks are reminded to hurt themselves instead of hurting their neighbor by their words.
It is so simple and so hard. When get outside of ourselves and our own desires, to see, hear and feel the other, the person before us, we can respond to the moment, the situation at hand. If the intention is to connect, then we need to see the person before us.
Yet most of us grow up learning to assert ourselves as right. I learned this in working with very young children, toddlers who tend to grab from each other. When I, as the adult simply state what is going on. "Susie has it and Sarah is pulling on it" rather than "she had it first or it's her turn", it seems to me as observer, that a release takes place, the struggle is seen and the children stop pulling and work it out once they are both seen in their struggle. It is the recognition of the other that shifts the situation from conflict to connection.
Your struggle is to get their on time. Her struggle is to wait once again.
When you can see that she too is struggling and it may be hard to repeatedly wait for another person, particularly the one you are married to, then you can address her feelings and her struggle by acknowledging them.[Hide Full Comment]