What Your Lack of Response Tells Others

ostrichMost of us think saying nothing is an acceptable and easy response to challenging situations. The ole ostrich-in-the-sand approach.  We hide out. We avoid, ignore and figure in time it will all go away. At the very least the other party will forget about things.

After doing personal coaching for 13 years, it’s clear to me this is not the case. No response, does not equal no problem. The issue doesn’t’ go away just because we aren’t facing it. In fact, more often than not, ignoring the issue leads to other problems.

We may THINK to ourselves, “I’m not saying anything. That will be safe.” But our silence communicates volumes anyway. It leaves things open to the interpretation of others, and, without our input. They decide on their own what our lack of response means. The meaning they give it is rarely what we intend.

Here are some of the conclusions that are often drawn by our silence:

  1. “You don’t care.”  –  If you did care, you would speak up and express your feelings.  Or at the least you would deal with the situation. Most of us interpret silence as indifference.
  2. “I’m not important.”  –   Someone waiting to hear your response might conclude, “I’m not important to you.” After all, in the midst of a misunderstanding or conflict, it would seem if I were important, you would do or say something.
  3. “Things are fine the way they are.” –  Sometimes when no response comes, we decide it means things are fine as is. Nothing needs to be done.
  4. “Do what you want.”  –  This is a convenient conclusion to draw. It allows us to do exactly what we want. After all, we haven’t heard from the other party (you), so obviously it doesn’t matter.  Without your input, we are free to decide what to do next. And considering there is a conflict, we love giving ourselves permission to do what we want.
  5. “It’s over.” –  Depending on the actual situation, sometimes we interpret silence to mean the relationship, friendship, or connection is over. That conclusion sets an entirely new set of circumstances in motion.
  6. “You don’t want to talk to me (or about it).” –  In either case, drawing this conclusion makes the other party completely reluctant to initiate a conversation. The gap widens. The silence continues.

Just because nothing is said, doesn’t mean no conclusions are drawn. Silence in the midst of an issue, argument, misunderstanding or crucial conversation only leads to more resentment and a greater distance to bridge for resolution.

breaking the silence

Are you an avoider? In the midst of a difficult conversation do you simply shut down and stop talking? Do you leave an issue hanging, never sharing your thoughts and questions? If so, remind yourself others will draw their own conclusions and most likely they will not be what you intend.

Want to resolve the issue? Want to affect the outcome? Speak up using The Way to Say It and allow yourself and the other party to talk it through and move on, whether that moving on means resolution, understanding, or just letting go. In any case, the wondering ends and there is clarity.

Want to learn more possibilities about what your silence is saying? Check out these links:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithwalkers/2013/02/silence-speaks-what-you-say-when-you-say-nothing-at-all/


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How to Shift Gears, Save Time & Avoid Conflicts When You’re in a Bad Mood

warning bad mood in progressI’m a strong proponent of direct, honest, clear communication in just about every situation. That includes days when we are not at the top of our game. Or to be more direct, days we’re in a bad mood.

I recall times as a child trying to decipher body language, facial expressions and energy of adults. Trying to figure out if things were “safe” or if I needed to lay low.  Not knowing for sure what was up meant walking on eggshells till things calmed down.

I still don’t get why it had to be so difficult. Why not just say it?

It’s natural to have bad mood moments or even days. We shouldn’t feel guilty or stuff the feelings pretending they don’t exist. When denied, those feelings only intensify.

Why not just say it? I’m in a bad mood today. I’m having a tough morning. I’m not myself. I’m out of sorts. If we can just say it, the people around us will know to give us love or patience, or to just get the hell out of the way till we return to a better frame of mind.

By being real and honest and owning what’s up for us, we will not only move through it more quickly, we’ll also help those around us understand what we need.  The trick is knowing the way to say it, so we won’t be at a loss for words.

To manage a mood and avoid misunderstandings that result when your team doesn’t know what’s wrong,  use simple direct “I” statements. They tell those around us clearly, that we’re off our game and need a little time.

Your “bad mood” warning could sound like this:

  • “Right now I’m in a bad mood.  I want you to understand it has nothing to do with you.”
  • “I’m sorry to say I’m in a bad mood right now. I don’t want to take it out on you.”
  • “I would appreciate your understanding. Today, I’m not feeling myself. If you can give me some distance this morning, it would be a help.”
  • “I am not feeling patient right now. I need some quiet time. Think you could give me some space till I can move through this?”
  • “Katy today is going to be a busy day at the office so I wanted to give you a head’s up. I had a horrible start to my morning and need some time to turn that around. I’ll check in with you in about an hour.”
  • “Mike, I’ve got some personal things on my mind right now and they’re affecting my mood. Just wanted to let you know, if I seem short, it has nothing to do with you.”
  •  “I need you to know I’m really angry right now, but not with you. If you can just leave me alone for a bit while I figure things out, I’d appreciate that.”

 Just say it! It will give you the space you need to shift gears without wasting the energy of those around you.

In the workplace, productivity won’t suffer with your employees tiptoeing around you not knowing what’s wrong or if it’s them you are angry at. And at home, everyone will relax when they learn you’re in a bad mood, but it has nothing to do with them.   warning proceed with caution

Pick your favorite line above. Or make up your own and give others warning when you’re not at your best. Everyone benefits.

Danger: Difficult Conversations and Email Don’t Mix

Send Button for EmailsI LOVE email. I am a fast typist (thanks to long ago secretarial school.) I love to write. And I like immediacy. Email ticks all the boxes.


Many people hide behind email, rather than bravely having conversations they need to have. They become The Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain. Only difference is their curtain is email.

If the communication you need to deliver, makes you feel like running the other direction, email is not the way to handle it.

If the topic you need to talk about is emotionally charged, like a break up, or a performance issue at work, email is not the right choice.

If the subject matter is touchy, involves parties who are already upset and taking sides, email is not going to clear the air.

If you know (and I know you do) when your email is likely to cause hurt feelings, disappointment, possible misunderstandings and yes, drama, email is not the solution to minimize all of the above.

When we chicken out and use email to handle situations like this, we can’t really wonder why things go sideways. Why drama escalates. Why nothing is resolved. It’s obvious.

Too much is missing and/or open to interpretation with email in a tough conversation. And it’s what’s missing that creates the problems. Like tone of voice. Like the ability to stop and redirect the conversation. Or the ability to clarify issues that are being misinterpreted….immediately! Once the reaction is there, once the feelings are hurt, it’s much harder to backtrack and resolve.

With email the entire conversation is delivered like a one-sided monologue. The reader has no opportunity to ask for clarification, to interpret facial expressions and tone, to stop a communication that is headed down the wrong path.

When you speak, whether face to face or by phone, at each moment you have the chance to shift gears, explain, listen, redirect, and ask questions and often, salvage a conversation that was beginning to go south.

ALL of that is missing when you put your thoughts in an email. You quickly bang out the email, throw out your thoughts, often with little or no editing. Then before you can foresee possible issues, or just think ahead a moment, it’s’ too late. The email is gone.

How many times have we all wished there was a “recall” button on personal emails?

Instead of going down this path, a better solution is learning and committing to NOT using email for any conversation that is touchy, drama-filled, sensitive, emotional, potentially upsetting or hurtful, easily open to interpretation, or complicated.

What recent email of yours turned into an issue that could have been avoided?  Suppose instead of emailing, you had picked up the old-fashioned telephone instead? Imagine the different possible outcomes with an authentic conversation?

Remember, email is great but it’s not right for every situation. Tune into your intuition. If you have the slightest inkling it could get sticky, DON’T send your email. Have a conversation instead. THAT’S the way to say it!

For some specifics on when and when not to email, check out this article.

5 Great Responses to Inappropriate Questions

Being a lover of cats I couldn’t resist opening the post from Dan at Leadership Freak today. It was titled, The Pussy Cat Problem.  I couldn’t imagine the content, but Dan is known for his short and sweet, extremely powerful words of wisdom. Today was no exception. All ten points in the post were spot on in helping leaders be more approachable and connected, but I especially love this recommendation:

Learn how to handle inappropriate topics,” such as saying, “Thanks for bringing that up but I can’t deal with that in public.”

 As a leader, your “charges” will sometimes bring you inappropriate information, or ask totally awkward questions in a public setting.

They see you as the person in the know, the person with the solution. And that is not something you want to discourage. Your success is related to how accessible and connected you are with your team.

You WANT to know what’s on their minds. You WANT them to feel they can ask you anything or bring you information.  The wrong response, or worse yet, no response, to their question will simply shut them down.

Knowing some appropriate responses before a situation arises makes it easier to respond on the spot.

Knowing some appropriate responses before a situation arises makes it easier to respond on the spot.

The worst responses to an inappropriate question are these:

  1. No response at all. That leaves the person who spoke up confused. With no response they have no idea what to think and they will be sure to discuss your lack of response with their circles. Doesn’t add to your leadership presence.
  2. A flippant response. I hope I don’t really need to state that this is not the answer either. A flippant or sarcastic answer from a leader is heightened in intensity by the power and status of that leader. You can bet this person who stepped out on a limb and asked what was on their mind, will not do that again anytime soon.
  3. An on the spot response that is also inappropriate. If their question or info was truly inappropriate, than discussion of this topic in public only makes a bad situation worse.

A powerful confident leader can handle the inappropriate. It goes with the territory. As Dan’s response suggests, the ideal comment to a public conversation on a “behind-closed-doors-topic” hits these benchmarks:

  1. It’s free of tone, judgment or sarcasm
  2. It spares damage to the initiator’s pride
  3. It is neutral, direct and clear
  4. It confirms to the speaker they have been heard
  5. It lets them know their request will be addressed, but not here and not now

Having some ideas of the way to say it in advance help in being prepared. Here are some The Way to Say It Tips to use in these situations include:

  • “That’s a topic for an off-line conversation. Let’s set another time to talk about this.”
  •  “Now that is a most unusual request. Let me have my assistant meet with you on that.”
  • “Wow, I need to think about that one. Let me get back to you.”
  • “You know, I think we can do better speaking about that in a quieter environment.”

Generally, as long as the spokesperson has been heard and gotten a response that sets expectations, they are satisfied and refrain from continuing the conversation on the spot creating an even more awkward situation.

Your strength as a leader comes from being able to handle all types of challenges and situations. That should include tough conversations and inappropriate remarks.

Right Words to Start Tough Conversations

Getting started is not as hard as you think. Try these phrases.

Getting started is not as hard as you think. Try these phrases.

The most difficult thing about difficult conversations is the first step. Opening your mouth to get the right words out. Starting off on the right foot. Being the one to broach whatever subject it is that’s uncomfortable.

But have you ever noticed —-once you start, things immediately get easier? Tension breaks.

With the first step behind us, the dread dissipates.  Just like public speaking, or a first time surfing, or trying some new challenge, the majority of anxiety arises in THINKING about it, not in the actual doing of it! Once we make that first move, utter those first words, something shifts. Suddenly things start to settle.

We can use that fact and some well worded introductions to help us get over the hump of our first step in a challenging conversation.  First, check out last week’s blog post, Six Steps to Initiating Difficult Conversations.

For conversation starters, try wording like this:

 “I’m angry about what happened yesterday.  I want to share my feelings and hear your perspective so we can clear the air.”

 “I think I made a mess of things in our recent meeting and I’m sorry.  I’d like to talk about it with you and see if we can’t regroup and get back on track.”

 “I’m very uncomfortable with some comments you made about the department. I’m hoping you can help me see things in a different light. Let’s talk this through.”

 “Let me tell you how things appeared to me when you said you weren’t interested in working with the new employee. Then I’d like to hear what your thoughts and reservations are.”

 “It’s important to me that we retain our good working relationship, so I want to share my concerns about our work project. I’m not happy with the way you have communicated with me on this, and I think we can do better. Let me tell you my issues and then let’s talk about what is making it difficult from your end.”

 “For me, it’s unacceptable to repeatedly not get a response from your office when I leave a phone message. I value our business relationship and I want a better level of service so we can continue working together.”  


To Learn Their Point of View, Ask Curious Questions

After delivering your succinct, clear, direct message, turn the tables. Keep the conversation going and on track.  Ask curious questions to give your listener the opportunity to share their thinking, feelings and assumptions. The goal is to understand both sides of the issue, not just yours.

Some phrases that will help you accomplish this sound like this:

“Can you explain your thought process so I understand where you are coming from?

 “Can you help me understand how you see things here?

 “Can you tell me what you were trying to accomplish so I understand your thinking?”

 Once you’ve asked the question, LISTEN. Yup, stop talking. Don’t defend. Simply listen.  It’s critical to give that respect and listen if your true intent is understanding and resolution. When they are done, there is time to clarify any issues that arise.

If You Mess Up

Difficult conversations are like life. Rarely are things perfect. Stepping into challenging conversations is honest, brave and forthright, AND sometimes messy. If you bumble something you say in one of these talks, do what you would do when writing. Edit!

Say something like,

 “What I just said isn’t quite right. Let me try that again. I want to get closer to what I’m trying to convey.”

 Wow, that was unclear. Let me try to reword that to make it more clear.”

 “Let me backtrack for a moment. What I mean is this…..”

And then try again. Simply start over with what you wanted to say, making an attempt to be more succinct and more clear. There is no rule in communications that says you can’t edit and reword what you say when it comes out less than perfectly.  In fact, the simple act of doing that often opens up communication. By being less than perfect, by being real, others often relax and we reach a better connection.


Make The Words Yours

Keep in mind whatever words you choose to say, you need to own.  In the beginning these direct conversations may feel awkward. You may feel unsure of how to word things. Over time it will get easier as your confidence grows and the discomfort becomes less disconcerting.  Till then, try to use these phrases above to get started. You may edit them a touch to make them yours, but refrain from going back to your old ways or you will get your old results.

As you try out these phrases, let me know how they worked for you.  If you come up with other great opening lines, I hope you’ll share them. I’d love to hear your experiences.

Six Steps to Initiating Difficult Conversations

Starting the conversation is the hard part.

Starting the conversation is the hard part.

There’s something about difficult conversations that keeps us stuck. We know we need to speak up, but instead we shut down. Rather than take action and get the conversation behind us, we obsess over it.

How should we say it? Will they get mad? How will they respond? Will they turn it around on us? What if they cry?  Suppose we lose control? What if, what if, what if. On and on we go. While we sit obsessing on what needs to be said, time passes. Tension builds. Resentment grows. The gap between us widens. Broaching the subject only gets harder as we procrastinate.

Nike built a zillion dollar brand on the slogan, Just Do It! Why not use that brilliance to inspire us? Waiting doesn’t make it easier. If you want easy, it is by far easier to jump in and handle the conversation than to wait.

Here are six steps to help you Just Do It with your difficult conversation:

  1. Know the goal  – What outcome do you want? In your mind, name that outcome…briefly and simply. Is it compromise? Understanding? Clearing the air? (If it isn’t a positive outcome…say for example, you want to punish them, or anger them, or get payback, then take no action. The Way to Say It is about coming from a positive place.)
  2. Be your “best” self  –  What’s that? It’s honest, direct, clear and calm, or at least even-tempered.  It also means having patience with others as well as owning your stuff.
  3. Don’t make issues bigger than they are  –  No extra drama. Nothing that is not relevant or necessary to reach understanding. Keep your wording brief and relevant. Less is best.
  4. Listen more than you speak  –  Know you only see one perspective, i.e., yours. By listening to what they have to say and sharing honestly yourself, you’ll learn their point of view and that is critical to resolution.
  5. Give up being right  –  Even if you are right, the goal is understanding. Understanding their point of view and feeling understood yourself.
  6. Accept how it turns out  –  Know that handling difficult conversations with grace takes practice. Accept that at first they may be messy, imperfect, but your efforts to step into these conversations are to be applauded. The conversation may be bumpy. Accept that. Focus on the outcome and congratulate yourself on your efforts.

As with most things in life, taking even the smallest step makes it all easier. Keep this in mind: the conversation itself is not the hardest part. It’s starting the conversation that turns us to stone.  It takes guts to be real, honest and direct.  The great news is more often than not, within minutes of initiating these conversations tension melts and relief floods in.

Next week,  I’ll share actual phrases,opening lines and words to say in these challenging conversations.