Have you ever been taken advantage of by a stranger who cuts in front of you in line and you wished you had spoken up? Have there been times when someone else’s behavior was driving you crazy but you didn’t have the courage to speak to them about it? Well here are some tips for doing just that – - – confronting someone about their behavior and doing it in a way that stands the best possible chance of getting them to change what they are doing without them getting angry at you. At this point we assume that you have already decided that confronting the person is not inherently dangerous and that their behavior is sufficiently bothersome that you have decided to mention it to them. Intervening now has three parts:
- Getting their attention
- Establishing some rapport and
- Telling them what you want them to do.
At the office, talking with a direct report (employee) about changing their behavior can be a formal HR-related issue and it deserves some preparation and forethought – - – After all these are your coworkers and you are about to ask them to change their behavior. But whether the person is a direct report or a peer, you’ll want to meet in a private place where both of you can speak openly. And HOW you ask for that meeting actually impacts the tone of the subsequent conversation. Assuming you are not the person’s supervisor, try one of these ice breakers:
- Could I ask a favor? I’d like to pick you brain on a problem I am having. Could we chat somewhere quiet for 5 minutes?
- I need your advice on something. Could we have a coffee this afternoon?
- You seem to genuinely care about our organization and the people here. So here is some constructive criticism that will make you even more effective with your peers.
Once you are in the private office meeting, these openings are often effective:
- I think you are a sensitive, caring person. But one behavior you sometimes exhibit when under stress is actually causing your coworkers some major stress.
- You are doing something that is upsetting your colleagues, and I don’t believe you even realize you are doing it.
- Have you noticed how upset other people get when you . . .
- And the most powerful change-inducing phrase ever: When you [insert the other person’s troublesome behavior here], it makes me feel [insert how you feel here]. An example would be When you make snide comments about me behind my back, it makes me feel that you don’t appreciate the long hours and hard work I do here. It is powerful because it is unassailable. Other people cannot argue with it because you are only saying how you personally feel. And it is an expression of fact. Plus you are not actually asking them to change their behavior (yet). This is a very powerful technique and should be used with care.
Bear in mind that, when confronting stress-generating people, you always want to give them the benefit of the doubt. You want to choose your initial words based on the seriousness of the offense committed by the other person. I always just assume people don’t wrong me intentionally; they are usually just in La La Land and are not paying attention. Example: The lady who cuts in front of you in the bank line may have thought you were completing a deposit slip and weren’t even ready to see the teller. After all you were writing on something. So be as polite as possible when you confront her as she walks past you, headed to the teller. Smile and say softly “Sorry, I think I am next in line”.
The opposite end of the behavior spectrum is the person who allows a small child to cross a busy parking lot alone, weaving between stopped cars – - – now that requires some strong and immediate intervention because a life is in danger.
The three steps
Step 1 – Getting their attention: Here are time-tested opening lines arranged from most polite to most confrontational.
- Could I ask a favor?
- This is going to sound weird but could you please . . .
- My daughter used to cry just like yours, and for no apparent reason. You might try . . .
- On the airplane or train: Excuse me. I think that is my seat.
- Something odd just happened . . .
- Actually, there is a line here – - – we are all waiting for the kiosk
- Whoa buddy. There is already a line here.
- We all need to keep an eye on children so they stay safe. Did you know your toddler daughter was crossing this line of traffic between stopped cars, all alone?
- I don’t think you realize what you just did! What were you thinking?
- You could have killed someone with that move just now, sir!
- PLEASE DON’T DO THAT!
Steps 2 and 3.
Establishing rapport and asking for a change in behavior. These two steps are often very closely related and can happen almost in the same sentence. Savvy conversationalists also call this “moving the conversation sideways” and then asking for the change. You are trying to get the other person to become a little sympathetic to your needs, which makes them MUCH more likely to change what they are doing that is causing you stress.
- This has been the day from Hell. I am exhausted. Could I ask you to put those heavy groceries in my minivan right there please?
- To the policeman who just pulled you over: This day has been unbelievable. I am late for work for the second day in a row. What did I do wrong, officer?
- To the spouse: Honey, my job is draining me. Even you said you have never seen me look this exhausted. Could we talk about some ways that we can share the household chores so I can have a little energy left for the kids and for you each night?
- To the loud mouth in the restaurant booth behind you: This is our first night out of the house in a month. Could you lower your voice please so we can enjoy a quiet dinner?
- You seem like a nice person. Could you please . . .
- Had a rough day? Me too. But can you turn down that music just a little, please? Thanks man.
- Our ears are ringing! Can you please take your child outside until she stops screaming? Thanks.
In this five-part series we have examined how we can get the people around us, the people in our workplace, family, circle of friends and even strangers, to stop causing us unnecessary stress. Next week we will conclude this mini-series on stress reduction and offer some final advice on persistently driving the unhealthy stress out of your daily life.
Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation
—Mack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government