Dear Luke: I’m so mad I could spit!

Luke MysseEver have one of those heated phone calls? Said things you wish you could take back?

In a recent email to the CFC
blog, a creative professional described a situation where things escalated to a screaming match. Whether the creative was right or wrong, I’m pretty sure that nobody wins when things get that heated.

Need to prepare for and/or defuse a heated conversation? Here’s how.
1) Prepare thyself. If you’re going into a tough meeting, figure out in advance which things you aren’t willing to budge on and why. I’ve found that if I’m able to articulate my position, I have the confidence to not let emotions get the best of me. It’s also
helpful to take a breather before getting ready for a fight; go for a walk, do some yoga, eat some chocolate. Do something to ease your stress and prepare you for the tough conversation.

2) They are human. Going into a conversation with respect for all human beings is a good starting place. I know it’s hard sometimes when dealing with a combative client, but I truly believe the old saying “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
And even if it isn’t true, I would much rather be honey for my sanity’s sake. I’m always reminded of a situation that happened to me years ago when a vendor screwed up a major project and I proceeded to tear him apart. Later, I found out his wife had passed away only days earlier. The truth is, you never know where people are in their lives. There may be unseen circumstances that you are unaware of or perhaps they are just insecure. Either way, we need more compassion.

3) Be comfortable with who you are. Being comfortable in your own skin helps keep you calm. The more you know about yourself, the less likely it will be that someone can get under your skin. Being passionate about what you do is important, but if you are so caught up in your identity as a “designer” or “writer” that every little rejection becomes a threat, it’s easy for people to pick a fight. I’m willing to make my case for why we shouldn’t make the logo bigger, but at the end of day, it’s not what defines me. Being a
good friend, husband and father is what really matters to me most.

4) Defuse or sleep on it. If you’ve practiced the above and things still get heated, you may want to walk away until both parties have calmed down. Being the bigger person and suggesting a time out can sometimes help you both realize that things are getting
out of control. That break is a good time to decide what’s important to you about the relationship, what your options are moving forward, and maybe even walking a mile in their shoes to see if you could sacrifice something for the sake of the other person.

So, what say you? Have you ever successfully defused a bomb of a conversation? What worked for you?

Listen to BTW: [audio:]

For more of Luke, listen to the clip from his session at CFC 2010, Who’s The Boss?

2 thoughts on “Dear Luke: I’m so mad I could spit!

  1. heather parlato

    great post, luke! i’ve found that when i am mad, i always go over the situation in my head and explore different ways i could express myself when it comes time to deal with the situation. sometimes this allows me to get my rants out where nobody else can hear them, and sometimes it helps me get to a new perspective. either way, the final conversation is usually very different than the initial reaction.

    when i know the other party may be upset, my strategy is to listen and only ask questions that get them to express the heart of the issue. for one thing, it gives them the release they need, they want to be heard. but allowing them to talk uninterrupted gives them no resistance, and allows them to self-correct from anger to a reasonable position. so, sometimes i just let them do the defusing themselves.

    of course, usually there is common ground to be had, so when i can see they need it, i go in with reassurance and solutions, and we can move forward on a positive note.

  2. Dyana Valentine

    Thanks, Luke and Heather: one thing I’ve found to be true is that there is usually something operating below the surface for me. The tips you both gave are excellent ways to make space for our truth to come out, whether it’s that we need to be more compassionate for ourselves or others, something completely separate from the challenge at hand is coming up and is cloaked by that moment or that there is something non-emotional that can be teased away from our immediate response. I always ask myself a few questions (yes, folks, I instigate myself, too:):
    What do I really, really want here? (usually, it’s NOT to punish someone for screwing up)
    If everything went my way, what would the resolution look like?
    Can the other person or this situation give me what I really want?
    What was my role in the current conflict (I go deep here–really get all investigative reporter on it–review correspondence, get clear on tone or how tone could have played a part)?
    What is reasonable to believe REALLY happened on my end to get us where we are now?

    It ALWAYS–really!–helps when I give the process a little bit of time and appreciative inquiry.