Anonymous asked the following question in the comments section of my blog post "A Personal Attack at Work":
I need feedback on being coached and counseled on someone's perception of me being rude by giving short responses to her questions. I was totally taken aback. Her questions were answered appropriately and honestly; I didn't know any other way to respond and I conveyed this to her. I've worked on this job for 5 years and have never had a manager speak to my character as this manager did today. I was so upset that I wanted to cry but I stated that I needed to seek advice on how to respond to third party false accusations. I don't know what to do; I feel that this is a personal attack against my character. How can I defend myself against someone's perceptions? Please advice.
To answer your question, I turned to George Thompson's book Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion
for a better understanding of what went wrong and how to assist you with future verbal encounters. First, it is important to note you are not alone; most people do not communicate skillfully under pressure, yet our entire careers depend on it.
What makes communication so difficult?
According to Thompson, when 2 people are talking there are actually 6 different identities involved - each person’s real self, each person as he is seen by himself and finally each person as seen by the other doubled.
So, what went wrong in your encounter?
I found some interesting statistics in the book’s elements of communication section –
The truth (which would be the honest answers you gave your manager) carries a weight of only 7 to 10 % of the total impact of a message. The message, which you see as the most important part of the process, is the least considered factor.
Voice carries a weight of 33 to 40%
Other non-verbals (body language) make up 50 to 60% of your impact.
Your voice’s tone conveys your real attitude towards people. If there is any conflict between your role and your voice people will always believe your voice.
What is needed for more effective communication?
Thompson feels empathy is the key to effective communication. Empathy absorbs tension. He says it works every time. Empathy is the quality of standing in another’s shoes and understanding where he is coming from. That’s right; you need to try to understand what your manager is thinking. Focus on her and her predicament. You may see the situation as you haven’t seen it before.
Empathizing doesn’t mean you have to agree; just try to understand where that person is coming from. Too many people confuse empathy with sympathy. You don’t have to sympathize with or approve of another’s actions or words. Just empathize and see how powerful it makes you. Don’t do it to be nice; do it because it’s the only way to hit upon a proper appeal.
I must point out, the more I read, the more I became convinced your manager may be the one who needs a lesson in Verbal Judo. Take this quote:
“When dealing with somebody in a business situation, you may be thinking I’m, handling this well. I’m firm, fair and professional, but if the other person sees you as pushy and aggressive, as ineffective, biased and intemperate, where does the truth lie? Unfortunately, it lies with how you’re seen and not with how you see yourself – even if you are right.”
Since unfortunately, we can’t send our managers to communication training, I came up with these suggestions to help you work through this situation:
Have a trusted friend, mentor or co-worker practice role-playing with you. Start by reversing roles. Try to think like your manager; define the problem from her point of view first, then practice your response. Try to keep a concerned and caring face while practicing and pay attention to your voice’s tone, pace, pitch and modulation.
For professional assistance contact your local Toastmasters Organization:
Ask if they can recommend a career or communication coach. Also, attend one of their meetings. The mission of the Toastmasters Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.
Write it down:
Putting it on paper helps me organize my thoughts. Your communication’s delivery may carry more weight, but content is also important. You do have to know what you are talking about. Decide precisely what it is you want and need to communicate then shape your thoughts by writing them down.
Request the assistance of a mediator:
Mediators can help both parties see the situation from a different angle. Do you have an HR department; if so, ask them to help you communicate with this manager. You didn’t specify if this particular manager is your manager, if not, is there another manager you report to? Ask them to intervene or assist on your behalf.
Enroll in a communication class
See what communication classes are available at your community college or local university. Prior to reading Verbal Judo, I would have recommended an assertiveness class, but Thompson feels assertiveness training is the wrong approach; in his opinion most assertiveness training teaches you to be aggressive.
Read Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion.
Thompson offers many helpful communication techniques to help take control of a situation while maintaining a non-confrontational atmosphere. I particularly like his paraphrasing technique (putting another person’s words into your words and delivering them back to him). He includes so much information in this book it is hard to absorb it all in one sitting; I plan on revisiting the book for further study.
Talk to other trusted managers and co-workers
Your confidence needs a boast; you have been with this company for five years and have never been in a situation like this before. Surely, there are others who have positive things to say about your performance and communication skills. Ask them for feedback on your strengths. Then concentrate on these strengths rather than your manager's hurtful words.
My own “personal attack episode” occurred last January and I can honestly say it took me months before I was completely over it. Only a couple of weeks ago, I realized I’ve stopped hating this manager. I ended up discussing my episode with a manager in a different department who gave me positive feedback on my own management skills; he pointed out positive aspects of my management skills that had never occurred to me. He also complained to our President about this manager on my behalf. Whether the President ever followed up with this manager or not I will never know; the manager does continue to cause problems in our department and throughout the company on a weekly basis. I have learned to be more empathetic towards this manager, but am still careful in my dealings with her and watch for signs she is having a bad day.
Does anyone else have advice for anonymous, if so please chime in?