I have often joked that I always get my way…eventually. Anyone who knows me, knows that isn’t true. I have faced a lot of adversity in my 39 years and have not always gotten my way. Getting my way isn’t about being selfish and wanting things done only as I like it. It’s about a strong belief that demanding what is right for yourself can often greatly impact the good of the collective (customers, companies, colleagues, teams, etc.). Over the years I’ve learned some simple rules for engaging with people that have helped me more often than not to feel that I’ve “gotten my way”
1. Treat others how you want to be treated. For me first and foremost this means treat others with respect. This message exists in some form in almost every book of holy scripture. And even if that’s not your bag, it just makes sense. Empathy and the ability to see yourself on the other side of the table goes a long way to building rapport and creating space for the other person to also share their truth.
2. Always try to assume best intent. I grew up in a family where people always assumed what everyone else meant by what they’d said or done. It’s a form of paranoia to always think you KNOW why another person behaves towards you like they do. In difficult situations, I always remind myself that the other person very likely does not harbor ill intent towards me. More likely, the do not know the impact they are having on you and need to be caught up to your experience of them. Do not write a script for what has happened or what will happen that includes both your lines AND the other person’s. People rarely stay on script and that is one of my favorite things about being alive and dealing with humanity.
3. When people show you who they are, believe them. (Thank you Dr. Angelou.) For me this looks like trusting my instincts about bad people…aka liars, manipulators, cheaters, and gossips. It also means that if someone has seemed like a really decent person and has suddenly exhibited bad behavior, you should dig a little deeper. Intuition is a strong driver for me…and I trust it a lot. But I do not trust it to a fault because people are complex. When it’s safe (and there are situations where it is simply NOT safe to ignore your intuition), leave some room for people to try again to show you who they are…just in case maybe they got it wrong at first.
4. Train people in acceptable ways to treat you. You will have to use words like “Let me finish my thought”, “I do not accept the way you are speaking to me”, “Your behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it”, and sometimes “I don’t know who the hell you think you are talking to, but you need to take a step back and think through your next move” or “My lips are still moving. When my lips stop moving, it will be your turn to talk.” I have also had good success with “Pump your breaks” and “Dial it back a notch” when things are escalating quickly. Your words have to be clear. You cannot be passive aggressive. You cannot be lazy. You have to use words that mean something. And in my opinion, it is best to speak clear messages with a calm voice/tone and sometimes a smile and a half chuckle This catches the receiver off guard and usually makes them take note that you aren’t fucking around.
5. Ask for what you want. People do not read minds. (Ladies…this includes your men!) Findings ways…spoken, written, interpretive dance…to say what you want concisely and calmly is important. When doing this NEVER apologize for asking for what you want. And understand that what you want may be something the other person cannot give you but you won’t know unless you ask. Try these out “I need you to kiss me before you leave for the day.” “You cannot continue to talk over me when I’m sharing my opinion in meetings. Please wait until I’m finished talking before raising your point.” “I am producing a great deal of amazing work and I need to be compensated adequately for that. I’d like a x% raise.”
6. Be crystal clear with deal breakers. I don’t believe in threats. I believe in conversations that lay out issues, options, and possible results. For instance “This situation makes me feel disrespected. The options for changing this in my mind are a, b, or c. If there are other options I’d love for you to share them. But you should know, I cannot continue to be in this situation and if we don’t resolve it by <choose a timeframe>, I’m going to have to stop living/working/volunteering/attending here.” It’s not a threat. It’s an opportunity for others to see the issue and participate in the solution. But be prepared, sometimes the solution is doing the thing you’ve promised you’ll do if things don’t change.
7. Always always always tell the truth. This one is a no brainer right? If you lie, equivocate, hesitate, or are slow to speak honestly…all of the other rules will become moot. Telling people what they want to hear, soft-selling, or just opting out of honesty will bury your ability to demand respect under a mountain of bullshit. So I’ll say it again…tell the truth ALWAYS!
8. When telling the truth, remember rule #1. Truth telling is hard in some circumstances and people might get hurt. So do it with respect, kindness, tact, and care. If necessary, imagine the truth you are speaking is being spoken to someone you love. This can force you to slow your roll on HOW you go about truth telling. After all, this person you are talking to is someone’s wife, father, brother, daughter. And if that doesn’t work, remind yourself that they were a baby once. Sometimes that makes me chuckle enough to speak kindly.
9. Keep a sense of humor. When having hard conversations or speaking honestly, we sometimes get a little too intense or uptight. CALM THE HELL DOWN. These conversations are RARELY life or death. If it’s life or death, then a sense of humor is optional. In all other cases, try to smile and if appropriate even laugh. More importantly, remember that difficult conversations and tense situations are sometimes given some room to breath with a little humor. I like sarcasm, crazy facial expresses and slightly wild hand gestures myself…but it works…a lot.