Last week a client shared an email from a dotted line supervisor that was downright abusive. Luckily this client also shared her response. And that told me everything I needed to know.
Not about anything my client did wrong. But about how her response would only make the supervisor dig in deeper.
You see, my client responded by rationally defending her actions. And that revealed the key: She wasn’t offering herself, or the supervisor, empathy.
If instead of defending herself, my client had calmly said, “This is upsetting….you don’t like what we did….It’s not right for this project,” then, “I get it. It’s frustrating, but this is what the client has asked for,” and, “It doesn’t help for you to yell. That only makes me feel defensive,” she might have gotten a better outcome. Instead, the argument was elevated to their mutual boss.
Empathy for the supervisor (yes, even one who is attacking) sounds like, “She’s upset. I get it. From where she sits, it looks like the project is at risk. Let me wait for her to get it off her chest, then we can talk.”
But that calm reaction also assumes you are offering grace to yourself. Something like, “You know what, I did a really good job under the circumstances. Maybe I didn’t have all the information, but now that we do, let’s make adjustments. Just because the situation isn’t right, doesn’t make me wrong.”
I shared the Social Style tool with my client. It’s a tool that talks about how different styles respond to stress, and how to avoid getting triggered by others’ behavior. She totally got it and very quickly saw how she could adjust her response.
If conflict situations make you feel trapped, or if you avoid them altogether because you’re afraid things will go sideways, that is normal.
Empathy is a fantastic antidote. Stephen covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
What if conflict situations could actually help deepen trust? With some practice, they actually can.
Have a great week.