I spend a lot of time trying to be a good communicator. Sometimes I’m better at it than at other times (anyone related to me by blood never seems to understand my request to take out the garbage), but I keep at it.
Despite technological advances, trying to communicate effectively can be frustrating. Trying to connect via e-mail or phone can be tricky when everyone is so busy. And to be honest, there are some people I either wish I never had to speak with or give me an overwhelming urge to swat them across the nose with a rolled up newspaper.
We’ve all had those challenges, which seem to be compounded by the increasing stress in our workplace. From the co-worker who is rude and abrasive to the boss who yells, we often have a tough time communicating effectively. Still, there are some ways to not only stand your ground against verbal assaults, but to make sure your message is being heard clearly and directly in this fast-paced communication environment. Try:
• Being straightforward. When you are direct – whether giving positive or negative feedback – it is appreciated by most people. Begin your statement with “I” and deliver it in a way that isn’t mean-spirited. Once you start dishing out the b.s. and being less than truthful, people will be less willing to communicate with you, and that will impact your ability to do your job.
• Learning to say “no” and meaning it. Too often, we say “no” but our whole demeanor conveys our doubt. Learn to say “no” when a request is first made, then state your reason for the denial. Don’t fidget, and make eye contact. This shows that you’re serious about what you’re saying.
• Spotting the mixed message. Haven’t we all dealt with the person at work that smiles or laughs while delivering an insult? For example, this person may say to you: “So, how did you enjoy your two-hour lunch?” That’s when you calmly look the person in the eye and say, “I appreciate your candor, but I think I’m the best judge of how I use my time.” Act as if the message were straigthtforward, or that you’re taking it literally: “Thanks for asking. The lunch was great.” If this fails, you can always become the broken record, repeating that there seems to be a problem: “I feel uncomfortable when you ask me about my two-hour lunch. I’d like you to let me know directly if my going out for a long lunch is a problem from your point of view.”
• Staying calm. When under a verbal assault, don’t offer justifications, apologies or qualifiers, because there is no way to win with a person who yells opinions. (This is especially true if it’s the boss.) Just keep repeating in your mind that the person is acting like a jerk, and keep breathing. In these cases, you might try admitting that there is some truth to what the person is saying, which can buy you some time and help turn down the intensity.
Finally, remind yourself in difficult communication situations at work that when someone is rude, belligerent, yelling or insulting, there may be more at play than you know.
For example, the person may be having a personal crisis, and you responding in kind may be something you come to regret.
Say to yourself: “This is difficult, but I believe in myself. It may be upsetting, but I can deal with it and getting angry only lets the other person win. I can’t control what they say, but I can control my reaction.”