Have you ever noticed how quickly a conversation can get uncomfortable when someone says something that is rude, insensitive or simply contrary? A cold hush comes over the room or a heated rush to battle makes innocent bystanders want to escape.
What fascinates me is how the offended can so quickly get defensive. Don't get me wrong, I'm not immune to this scenario. I don't like it when someone takes a shot at me and I'm inclined to go into a "let's settle this right here and now" mode. Which isn't always the best approach. And that's what has me thinking today - "What is really going on in those awkward moments and what would be a better approach?"
The way I see it, these moments are similar to what happens in most sports. There is offense and defense. Each has a specific purpose and strategy. The difference however, is that we don't approach conflict with purpose and strategy - we just react or over-react. Let me explain:
When a team goes on offense - the goal is to make a point. The same is true in life. When we are "offended" it is typically because someone made a point that we don't like. Whatever their intentions, we are unhappy.
So we get defensive and try to protect our rights, dignity and pride. We want to naturally "even the score"! But defense is not about making points, it's about protecting our turf and preventing others from making any more points.
Think about that for a moment. What do we do in a sporting event when the opposing team makes a point? Do we stay in a defense posture? No! We shift quickly into an offense strategy and seek to make our own points. If we play only in a defensive mode, we'd never have control or opportunity to score. A basketball team in defense is focused on preventing a score and getting the ball back. If they succeed in that, they pivot their strategy immediately to offense. Staying in defense at all times would be a guaranteed loss. They would always be running backwards and being pressured by the competitor. Might as well just sit on the bench and let the other team demonstrate their slam-dunk skills.
That's what I see happen all the time in corporate environments. People get offended by a point made by another and in turn they immediately try to defend themselves. Usually by attempting to discredit the other person or by arguing that the opposing view is wrong. That is not an effective strategy.
When you feel offended - get offensive!
Don't attack the person or their perspective. Instead, use this offensive strategy:
1) Shift your thinking. Give thought to how you can best communicate your ideas and make your next point.
2) Stay focused on the facts. Being factual, not emotional is the best game plan.
3) Stand your ground. If there has been a foul or an attack, don't retaliate. I believe that if you stay professional, others will come to your defense and stand up for your integrity.
4) State your position and make your point. Be brief and tactful.
5) Step away. Sometimes after the point has been expressed people need time to think. In other situations, if the "offender" is simply being a bully or trying to instigate a fight - it's time to walk way.
Just one more thought. Don't keep score. It's much more rewarding to work with others for a desired team outcome, then it is to be constant competitors.
- Steven Iwersen