Act One Scene One: Learning a brand new way of implementing: “Don’t get mad, get even.”
During a recent training session regarding workplace relationships, I asked attendees to think of a time when a co-worker, client or manager’s words left them absolutely speechless. Shock waves filled the room as participants willingly shared their stories. One example in particular threw everyone for a loop. As one of the attendees revealed the details of an encounter with a VP, the workshop discussion quickly heated up as people chimed in with their best comebacks. The collective “you have got to be kidding” sentiment made me think about the importance of knowing how to respond professionally to a disparaging remark in order to keep one’s credibility and composure, as well managing as the ramifications of unpleasant business interactions spiralling out of control.
What were the words that left everyone aghast?
Act One, Scene Two: The Client Breakfast
The workshop participant described the scenario to my audience, outlining the chain of events that took place at a recent breakfast networking meeting held by one of her clients. Everyone had taken their seats as breakfast was served. Introductions were made and light conversation ensued. My workshop attendee’s VP arrived at the table shortly after the event began. Noticing that all the seats were occupied, the VP leaned toward the attendee (her employee) and said: “How did you get an invitation to be at this table?” Other guests heard the VP’s question and were utterly dismayed. There were a few polite whispers as they watched the VP walk away, in search of a place to sit. My attendee, feeling embarrassed by the VP’s words, did not know what to say and did not bring her concerns about the remark to her VP’s attention.
Act Two, Scene Two: Back at the workshop
Best strategy debate…Speak up or let it go?
The above example set off a discussion amongst the workshop attendees regarding the best strategy. Many said they would be in a conundrum. Would it be best to speak up or let the VP remark go? One attendee remarked:” If this were my boss, and I chose to speak up, there may be nasty consequences.” Another participant believed that the example served as an opportunity for the attendee to confront the VP due to the negative perception that their clients may have of their company (by being party to the comment at the breakfast.) Several people felt that they would simply let it go. In a nutshell, the divergence of opinions regarding the best strategy to manage oneself made for a fascinating debate. It was time to draw some conclusions and apply workable solutions.
Act Three, Scene One: After the workshop
Recommended strategies for proactive communication during uncomfortable professional encounters:
1. Begin with a values-based stance
The old adage “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” is applicable in these situations. It is best to state your values up front. For example: “Mary, I value great workplace relationships and because it is important for me to maintain these with my co-workers and managers, I want to discuss our meeting at the client breakfast last week. When all the seats were taken at my table, you mentioned that you were surprised to see me there. I felt uncomfortable and wasn’t sure how to respond. It would be helpful for me to understand the comment?”
By asking for clarification of the remark in this manner, you are more likely to set a positive tone. In addition, you are stating the FACTS by naming exactly where you both were and what was what was said. You also own your feelings. Consider your alternatives. Do you bottle up your feelings or blow up? If you were to say: “I was highly offended by what you said, and so were others”, or “It was rude of you to put me down in front of others”, there is no opportunity for the other person to take responsibility for answering your question.
2. Decide if you want a conversation
Your sole objective is to positively express your thoughts regarding what transpired. If you feel embarrassed and uncomfortable, then you have a right to convey your views with confidence and conviction. You may also choose to make a statement without asking a question: “Mary, I value great workplace relationships and because it is important for me to maintain these with my co-workers and managers, I want to discuss our meeting at the client breakfast last week. When all the seats were taken at my table, you mentioned that you were surprised to see me there. I was uncomfortable and embarrassed by the remark. I want to ensure that we have open communication, and therefore it is important for me to express my feelings.”
3. State your case without trying to fix or blame others
When confronting another person regarding your concerns about their comment, “dig”, or disparaging remark of any kind, remember that you cannot control their response. Ask yourself if your intention is to earnestly seek a solution and maintain a healthy business relationship? Or, are you trying to teach them a lesson? A response that is issues-based rather than emotionally or personality-focused is likely to be more effective.
If you are anxious about the possible consequences, especially if the person in question is in a senior role consider whether you could pay a higher emotional price by remaining silent? If you do not speak your truth, resentment will build and the relationship may be placed at risk. Your goal is to take care of your side of the street, and yours alone. Once you have expressed your thoughts utilizing the solutions recommended here, resolve that you have managed the situation in a positive, proactive manner. By maintain your professionalism and taking the lead in your communication, you are ultimately demonstrating what matters most…by being version of yourself.
Based in Vancouver, Michelle Ray is the CEO and founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute.
Click here to listen to excerpts from her recent webinars on building better business relationships