A Few Tools to Ease the Way

I love simple tools and techniques. That’s why I like great questions so much. The right question, asked in a neutral tone, can transform a situation. Here are a few examples:

  1. Someone is upset. The best definition I’ve heard of the word upset is “an unfulfilled expectation.” You expected X to happen, Y happened instead and now you’re upset. Therefore, a simple and quick way to get to the bottom of things when someone is upset is to ask, “What were you expecting to happen that did not?”
  1. A mistake is made. How you respond (versus react) to another person’s mistake says a lot about you. When you react to a situation, the adult has vacated your body and a small, tantrum-driven child is in charge. On the other hand, when you respond, your adult is in charge. Keeping that in mind, here’s a great question for your adult to ask when a mistake is made: “What happened?”

“What happened? Is a great question because we often make this type of situation even worse by, as they say in courtroom dramas, “introduce facts not in evidence.” Reacting to a mistake sometimes involves making assumptions that may or may not be true. “You were careless.” “You’re irresponsible.” “You clearly didn’t think this through.” When the question, “What happened?” is answered, you will know the facts instead of things you made up because you’re upset (refer to #1 above). Then you can respond effectively.

3.  You’re giving instructions. Too often, in this scenario, we do all the talking and simply assume (there’s that word again!) that the other person absorbed all the words we uttered as well as what we meant when we said them. BIG MISTAKE. An approach that increases the odds of you getting what you want is to clearly outline the end result you seek and then ask, “How are you planning to get this done?” If their answer tells you they’re heading down the wrong path, you have an opportunity to course-correct before any time or effort has been wasted. That way, you won’t be upset (see #1) and mistakes are avoided (see #2).

Those are a few tips that have helped me greatly. I hope they’re equally useful for you.

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