By Josselyne Herman-Saccio: Communication expert and seminar leader for Landmark.
Disagreements happen, and when they happen with those in our office space, the emotional impact can thwart productivity. Left to run rampant, disagreements can color our relationships and lead us down the road to relationship impasse. So what can we do to avoid such dire consequences? How can we defuse disagreements as they unfold rather than letting them fester and become deeper problems?
Landmark calls the science of why people get upset with each other “The Upset Technology®.” This step-by-step process for understanding where communication breaks down and how to heal disagreements as they happen reveals a promising path to healthy relationships. Here’s how it works.
There are seemingly countless unique reasons why people get upset. In fact, though, they can all be broken down into three basic areas:
· undelivered communication
· thwarted intention
· unfulfilled expectation
When we purposefully withhold our thoughts and feelings from another person, or when we feel that, for whatever reason, we can’t say what we need to say, resentment and frustration begin to brew inside of us. This then comes out as passive-aggressive (or sometimes even outright aggressive) behavior, such as slamming the microwave door a little louder than normal during lunch, brooding over an unclean coffee pot or not making eye contact as you pass each other in the hall. This is the result of undelivered communication.
A thwarted intention occurs when we hope for things to unfold a certain way. For example, say you wanted to use the conference room to impress a client, but your office-mate spontaneously held a conference call from there and disregarded the communal space calendar. You might have unresolved feelings of disappointment that end up being aimed at the other person. This is upset due to a thwarted intention.
Expectations are a very common source of upset. Many of us expect things from the people in our world based on our own upbringing, moral compass, communication style and more. We may not even have taken the time to express our expectations; we simply have them and assume others should know what to do to fulfill them. Perhaps you expect people to pay a bill early and are furious when they pay a day late. When these expectations go unfulfilled, upset can occur.
When you notice yourself feeling upset in a given situation, ask yourself the following questions:
· What is it I’m not saying?
· What accomplishment didn’t happen?
· Which of my expectations weren’t met?
Answering one or more of these for yourself will help you get to the root of what is bothering you, as well as guide you in how best to communicate your feelings.
Skip the Blame, Aim for Solutions
Acknowledge the reason for your upset to the other person without using any blaming statements. A good first step is to try to use the word “you” as little as possible. For example, let’s say that in the case of the conference room confusion, you then didn’t say anything, a few days went by and you found yourself being distant and short-tempered in the office. If you were able to acknowledge the source of your upset, you might say:
“I have been holding back my feelings of disappointment from the day. I had planned to use the conference room to impress a client and we didn’t get to use it. I expected you’d honor the community space calendar and felt upset when that didn’t happen. Would you be willing to check in with me when you’re holding a spontaneous meeting in the conference room?”
In this example, you identify the source of your feelings, give the other person the opportunity to hear how you feel — hopefully without feeling blamed — and then you are offer a proposed solution.
Don’t Take Things Personally
Another important piece to keep in mind when it comes to disagreements is not to take things personally. You never know what someone else is going through internally and their bad mood or state of upset is up to them to communicate. You can, however, give them the opportunity to do so by asking them a form of the questions above:
· Is there something you need to say?
· Is there something that didn’t go as planned that is upsetting you?
· Do you have expectations that weren’t met?
By keeping the lines of communication open, being accountable for our own feelings of upset and not assuming responsibility for those of others, we can begin to dissolve the tension around disagreements. This can be challenging and if you need practice, check out Landmark’s “Self Expression and Leadership Program” which teaches you how to express yourself fully, make a difference and be a leader. Millions of people around the world use its communication and community lessons. Learn to transform disagreements and instead use your community to support you in being motivated and inspired, and to keep your promises in existence.