How do you respond when someone comes to you and confronts you about an issue?
What if they come across angry and accuse you of motives you know you didn’t have?
Our response will quickly determine whether the conversation is resolved well or turns into an angry argument in which all parties leave angry and frustrated.
In past articles, we’ve mostly discussed how to be the person who gives the message in conflict. In this article, we will discuss how to receive it.
Receiving other’s complaints
The way we should receive conflict messages is similar to how we should give them. Instead of giving our viewpoint first and then listening to theirs, we reverse it. Here are the basic steps for receiving criticism or other conflict messages:
- Listen, empathize, and seek to understand
- Tell your facts, your story, and your viewpoint
- Listen more if needed
- Work on a solution
The biggest key to resolving the issue, whether they are right or 100% wrong, is to listen. Listening has power. They may come to you upset, they may accuse, they may say things that you know are completely wrong. Listen.
Our immediate reaction usually is to argue and defend ourselves. We want to show the other person that we are right and they are wrong. That doesn’t work, especially if emotions are high. How many times in the heat of an argument with high emotions have you seen someone say “you know what, you are right, and I’m wrong. My bad”? It doesn’t happen.
If you want to resolve it, if you want to show them the truth, if you want to keep having a great relationship with that person, listen. Listening is the key.
Listen and do not interrupt. Do not argue. Do not refute. Just seek to understand. Empathize. Try to see the situation from their shoes. Try to see how they got the impression or story that they have.
Ask questions and dig deeper. Paraphrase. Paraphrasing is where you repeat what someone else has said in your own words. When you paraphrase, it shows the other person that you are listening and it allows the other person to clarify where you might be mistaken.
Make sure you really understand what they are saying and why.
And, when you listen and seek to understand and ask questions to learn more, it diffuses anger. The other person begins seeing you as an ally rather than an enemy. By listening, the other person calms down, and they will be at a state where they can listen to you as well.
Share your viewpoint
Only after you have listened, and both you and the other person feel that you understand their viewpoint, do you share your viewpoint. State your facts, then your story (your assumptions, the implications the facts seem to tell you).
Make sure not to come across accusatory toward the other person. Don’t diminish their feelings. Whether they are right or wrong, their feelings are real.
Don’t say to the other person “you are wrong”. Instead, explain your viewpoint and how you see the situation.
You may have to repeat the listen and sharing cycle multiple times. That’s okay. If the other person get’s defensive again, let them speak and listen. Listen and paraphrase.
Work on a solution
If you find out that you are in the wrong, apologize! You actually don’t have to wait till this part of the conversation to apologize. If you are in the wrong, and you know it, when it’s your time to speak in the conversation, apologize. Then make it right. Take the actions you need to take to make the situation right again. Make the amends that you need to do.
Sometimes the other person will realize that you aren’t wrong and that they were mistaken. Maybe there was a misunderstanding. In those situations, you may just discuss it and move on.
In other situations, you may need to work on a solution to fix the issue. Sometimes you may be in the wrong and sometimes you may not be in the “wrong” but still can work together with the other person to make the situation better. If that’s the case, do it.
Brainstorm and come up with ideas. Make a decision that satisfies both parties.
Now that we covered the basics of receiving a message, here are a few more pointers:
Points to remember
Our critics can often be our best teachers
When we get defensive and argue instead of listening, we miss out on one of the best opportunities we have to learn. Our critics can often be our best teachers. When people confront us about a behavior or issue, if we listen, we can then learn from it and become better people.
If all we ever do is argue and never listen, we will stay the same and miss out on the potential growth. And that’s sad.
Apologies are powerful
Apologies are powerful. They are diffusing. They are relationship healing. If you are in the wrong, then apologize as soon as you can, sincerely. It has to be sincere. People can spot a fake apology. Apologize, and do what you have to do to make it right.
During the entire conversation, even if you believe that the other person is wrong and off-kilter, show respect. Treat them as a decent human being who has a valid concern. Treat them as you would want to be treated. Use good body language. Give them good eye contact, lean forward, avoid crossing your arms, and nod occasionally. Don’t roll your eyes or make sarcastic comments or mumble under your breath. Be respectful, even if they don’t show it to you.
It can be easier said than done
It’s easy to say that we should not get defensive but listen, it’s another thing to do it.
However, it’s vitally important that we try. Listen first, and apologize where needed.
If you do that, you will be well on the way of receiving criticism well, of greater personal growth, and with keeping and maintaining strong relationships.