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Take The Sword In

Take The Sword In

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.

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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

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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

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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?”

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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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