You probably haven’t re-read your copy of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People lately, but there’s a great part in Habit 5 (Seek first to understand, then to be understood) that talks about confrontations. I use that advice often, and almost always to the effect that Dr. Covey promises.

Good! You See it Differently

When confronted by a difference of opinion, especially when the person who disagrees with you sounds almost hostile about their opinion, or dismissive, what’s expected is a confrontation. The person arguing with you lunges forward with a criticism. She speaks with no regard for your feelings or ego.

In the audio program, there was always something so genuinely happy in Covey’s voice when he replied to his attacker. The script was like this: Sashi is arguing with Enrique. Sashi says, “This part is all wrong! There’s a big mess here. Things haven’t been taken into consideration.” At this point, Enrique could let his feelings get hurt, but instead, he chooses to say, “Good! You see it differently. Tell me what you think.”

The expression is magical. It takes the attacker off guard. It “takes the sword in.” Thing of someone lunging forward with a sword. Instead of countering with your own blade, you grab theirs, and pull it towards you. Imagine how off-balance one would be if one expected you to strike. Everything would be jarring to him because his bodyweight and strength was geared for a return conflict.

Check Your Ego

The prime ingredients to managing this kind of communication experience are a strong belief that you will eventually be heard, and also the ability to check your ego, to relinquish that sense of having to defend your thoughts and feelings to this other person. If you are strong in your spirit, you can do both. You can wait to make your point. If you execute the interaction well, anyone observing the interaction will most certainly score you higher than you’d imagine. It takes guts to let someone else stomp all over your idea, especially in public, but it takes almost superhero-level powers to reply with, “Good! You see it differently.”

But I’ll tell you: the reward of taking that sword in, of getting the person so off-balance that they accidentally become your ally and help you make the original idea better, is worth more than gold.

An Anecdote to Illustrate

I know because I did this as recently as last night. I have a coworker who feels she must repeatedly denounce my contributions in private, among her circle of friends. She feels I’m not doing my job the way she would do it. This, of course, is true. I’m doing it the way I do my job: like a rockstar. It sometimes bridles those who come from a different school of thought. That’s okay. We see things differently.

She chose to “call me out” in a lengthy diatribe about a project I’m running. She had lots of “concerns” about various small details. In all cases, her ideas were valid, strengthened my project, and definitely were helpful. The trick was: she kind of whined about it, and ended up sounding both accusing and attacking.

So, I replied to the same group and said basically this: “Thanks for writing. You clearly have some great ideas and passion about this project. I appreciate that you’ve taken on as many of the points you did. Shall we meet so that you can further help me improve and better define the project?”

What followed was a reply that came out sounding like, “Oh, well I wasn’t intending to be helpful. I was just complaining that you run your projects differently than me. I don’t have any time to help. I just want you to get my approval before doing things.”

This is victory to me. She didn’t discredit me. I got lots of free advice on how to improve the project. And she felt heard and acknowledged. By the way, that’s Habit 4: Think Win Win. Am I completely noble? Of course not, but then I’m not running for sainthood. I’m trying to get through life and be helfpul.

Try taking the sword in yourself. See if you can get people off balance in their disagreements, and try turning them to your cause. The results are often surprising.

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