In order to keep our counterpart from shifting into a defensive mode, we use the knowledge that the feeling we experience are not so much about what we see or hear, but what we tell ourselves about what we see or hear. In some of my presentations, I tell a story that leads the listeners into reacting based on a generalization (sharks are dangerous, for instance) and then reveal some specifics that, had they known them, their reaction would have been different and more rational.
Applying this well-known mechanism to an exchange with a counterpart requires us to detect their defensiveness. Defensiveness is not always expressed with anger or silence. Sometimes it is expressed with:
and other responses that aren’t clear communications – they are ways people indicate what they would LIKE to say, but won’t say because they don’t feel safe in saying it. Your primary job as a communicator is to ensure that the other person feels safe in talking to you. The techniques we cover in these newsletters are used by professionals like hostage negotiators and crisis managers for that very reason – to make people feel comfortable to talk even in highly charged situations. More information is available here.
When we find ourselves shifting into a defensive mode, the first opportunity is when we feel as if the other party has made an attack on our dignity or that we are not being heard. This usually happens when our counterpart says something to us and we feel angry about it. Do you recognize this as just a case of us telling ourselves a story about what the other person meant and being angry over our story? If so, you are well on your way to understanding how to correct the situation. A good method for this is to first recognize that you are responsible for your stories and its best to get clarification by asking your counterpart “ what do you mean by that” or “that’s interesting – tell me more about that” or “can you say that a different way? I need to understand just what you mean”. The purpose of this is to give yoru counterpart the benefit of the doubt and ask for more words so that you can come to understand what was meant.
Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication