By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Content Agency
A. I often find people at work will respond in an intensely negative way to a word I use when I don't mean anything bad by it. Then people get upset and think I want to fight with them. How do I stop these cycles of conflict before they begin?
Q. You can stop these cycles of conflict by being keenly aware that many words are emotionally charged and not neutral. Also be conscious that most people listen for others to tell them what they themselves fear about themselves.
If you are facing a tricky conversation, go to a friend outside your workplace and practice your dialogue with him or her. Ask your friend to listen closely to your words and tell you if you are using any language that could be easily misunderstood. Also ask your friend to observe your body language and tone of voice to see if you are expressing contempt, judgment or anger. Practice with your friend until your friend tells you he or she doesn't react negatively to what you are expressing in the conversation.
Obviously, we often get mad at work. The idea when we talk to others is to make the problem the enemy and not the person we perceive as generating the problem. You may think it is mincing words to attack the problem and not the person, but the other person won't help you if you attack him or her. Stick to negotiating for what you want, not blaming your coworker.
When you slow down and get help from others to listen to your language, you'll be shocked how often you invoke negative reactions in your word choice. Consider the following common words used at work: mistake, arrogant, stubborn, slow, late, sloppy, uncooperative. Can you see why using these kinds of words is an invitation to a fight?
Instead, you should describe the specific behavior. For example: "You arrived at 8:15"; "I need the project a day earlier"; "I need you to review these numbers for me"; "Will you double-check the plans here?"
Details are very important; it's better to use specific examples than vague criticisms. People respond neutrally and willingly to an example, but they respond with hostility and defensiveness to vague labels.
Become aware that word choice can evoke cooperation or hostility. When speaking, pay keen attention to the word you are about to use and any negative associations others may have to that word.
If after reading this column your only change is to begin an experiment watching closely what words you use tomorrow and what reaction you get, you will quickly see the benefit of using words as a kind of social sorcery. You will fight many fewer battles if you learn to use language more consciously.
Be patient with yourself as you shift from using language unconsciously to using it consciously. Every wizard was once an apprentice. The patience to practice and see what works is what will allow you to improve.
The last word(s)
Q. I work with a guy I think is crazy, and I am scared of him. I'm trying to be mature, but all I want to do is avoid him. Is there a tip for working with people that scare you?
A. Yes, trust your gut and avoid them. Ignoring your instincts is foolish and not mature!
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This column was printed in the December 27, 2015 - January 9, 2016 edition.