Skills 360 – Defending Your Ideas 2

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host Tim Simmons, and today I want to continue our look at how to defend yourself and your ideas in a competitive world.

One of the tough things in business – and life for that matter – is that you’re not just dealing with ideas, and numbers, and rational decisions. You’re dealing with people. And people don’t always take a cool and logical approach to things, even if you do. They get emotional about ideas and worked up about disagreement. And you might get that way too. Passion is a good thing, but too much negative emotion is counterproductive. So how can we manage people’s emotions while continuing to defend ourselves?

Well, one thing I’d like to emphasize is the importance of patience. Listen carefully before reacting, and think before speaking. If we think someone is attacking us or our ideas, it’s easy to start firing back. But the war of words is usually won by the person with the more strategic approach. Don’t get into mudslinging. Just be patient, and keep your cool.

The opposite of this is getting defensive, which means being emotional and reactive. So when a difficult colleague says, “Sam, I’m afraid your plan will never work,” don’t respond with something like, “What are you trying to say? I spent a lot of time on this, and you just shoot it down…” Instead, show patience and listen, which means you could respond with, “Okay Dave. Can you explain exactly why the plan won’t work?” You see, like I said in our last lesson, we need to keep it focused on ideas.

And we want to keep it positive. Believe it or not, that can mean actually praising the people who seem to be attacking us, like, “Thanks Dave, you’ve got some good points there.” And it can mean actually thanking them for their comments, like, “Dave, I appreciate your feedback.” Even when that feedback came in a way that you don’t like, praising and thanking is part of taking the high road in debate. And in many cases, you get back what you give out, so you may find that aggressive colleague actually toning it down a bit.

Of course, there are times when you have to say something negative, when someone continues with an aggressive approach. And at times like these, sometimes you have to address the issue directly, or call someone on their behavior. The important thing there is to make sure you focus on behavior, not character. What’s the difference? Focusing on behavior means saying, “Karen, could you please lower your voice and just stay calm about this.” But focusing on character means saying, “Karen, you are too loud and emotional.” Which do you think is going to serve you better in an argument?

So, we exercise patience and we stay positive. That’s great. And the third big thing we need to do is watch our language. You’ve surely been in an argument that starts out about ideas, but pretty quickly becomes about the words people choose or the way they phrase things. And I’d bet that a lot of those arguments have been about two big words to avoid: “always” and “never.” You can just strike those words from your professional vocabulary right now. They will only lead to trouble.

Watching your language usually means making your statements softer and gentler. We sometimes say that we qualify our statements. And there are many ways to do that. One way is by using words that show uncertainty, like “maybe” and “might.” Another way is to find indirect ways to make a point. For example, saying something like, “Gordon, what you say makes no sense” might get you into trouble. But if you say, “Gordon, we might want to reexamine whether that’s the best option”, you are playing it safe.

Softening your language can also mean couching – or surrounding – your ideas with extra words. Take a statement like, “we are getting off track.” Saying it just like that could come across as aggressive. But what if you said, “I’m kind of thinking that we are getting off track here on this issue.” Again, softening your language can help reduce the level of emotion in the room. And you’ll be in a better position to explain clearly why you, or your ideas, are right.

So, just to review here, we’ve focused on three key tactics for defending yourself and your position in the face of difficult emotional people: number one, stay patient; number two, stay positive; and number three, watch your language.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.