I knew it! A magic formula really does exist – a magic formula that can turn conflict into calm, passion into purpose, and criticism into compassion.
We have all met that person who seems to be able to tell you to go to heXX in such a way that you ask directions for the quickest way there before you realize what just happened! They can say “no” and deliver bad news, yet still make you feel compelled to thank them.
Of course there is a hitch: This magic formula does not come naturally at first. It takes practice. In fact, it can be downright messy in the beginning. You will fail, restart, get further, fail again, pick up where you left off, fail at least once more, apologize, backup, and then finally, cross the finish line.
The magic formula lets you convey information to others in such a way that they understand how to absorb it, and also releases you from being wed to the end result of the recipient’s actions.
In other words, the formula below will allow you to give advice to people without offending them or being frustrated when they do not take it, even when they asked you for it!
Step 1 – Ask Permission. Instead of saying, “Here’s what you should do (insert advice),” decide what you want to accomplish with the advice – give your opinion on a solution, offer lessons learned, or provide options for next steps – and ask the recipient if they are open to hearing that information.
For example, “Would you like to hear my thoughts on what you just told me?” or “Would you be interested in hearing what I did when I was in a similar situation?” or “A few thoughts come to mind as you are describing this problem. Would you like to hear some of them?” or “Would you like some feedback on your performance/story/action?”
By asking these questions, you are preparing the listener to understand how they should receive the information – not you telling them exactly what to do as with traditional advice, but instead offering options or information that they can use at their discretion.
Of course, by asking them these questions, you must be prepared for the recipient to say, “No.” If they do, that is your cue to move to the next topic.
When they say, “Yes,” they are giving you clear permission to share your thoughts, and have now explicitly opened the door to considering what you have to say. You will find the audience much more receptive to your thoughts than when you just tossed out your solution as unsolicited advice.
Step 2 – Lay out the issue at hand. Below is the fill-in-the-blank formula. I strongly advise using it exactly as printed below until you get a firm grasp on it. It will be messy and awkward at first, but I guarantee that it will eventually roll off your tongue so naturally, you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
“When you [specific behavior of recipient], the impact on me was [thoughts, reactions]. I feel [name specific feeling].”*
*Key not say “you make me feel…” because you are moving from abstract “them” and focusing on your experience, your impact and your feeling.
For example, “When you failed to meet yesterday’s deadline with your report, the impact on me was that I had to reschedule three important meetings today to make time to calm down the client who was expecting the report’s results. I felt very frustrated, overworked and distrustful of your work and now, I question your ability to be a key player on our team.”
This is opposed to “You always miss deadlines and no one wants to be on your team. You make me/all of us feel like you are just trying to sabotage the whole program.”
With the magic formula, you are (1) giving the recipient specifics that they can understand, instead of a generic/general reference that can be misunderstood or refuted; (2) you are sharing your experience backed up by facts, instead of speaking for others in general terms; and (3) you are showing them the direct impact of their actions on you and what the result is, instead of inserting emotions that are your responsibility, not theirs.
Step 3 – Ask the recipient to restate what they just heard. This allows you to make sure the message you intended to send was the same message the listener heard. Communication is the received message, not the one you intended to send.
If they did not hear you right, you may have to restate the feedback again, maybe even with a new example.
Step 4 – Follow up with what you said you would offer. Going back to Step 1 – did you offer your thoughts, your experience, a few options?
For example if you offered your experience, “When I start missing deadlines, I find it’s because I’ve over committed to projects – and I love them all, so I can’t let any go. When that’s the case, I usually choose the project that is the most time consuming. That lets me keep all of the other projects by sacrificing just one. Otherwise, I stick with the most time-consuming one and really focus all of my attention there. As a result, I feel more accomplished and less stressed, because I was able to have at least some success, even though I had to admit defeat on the other project(s). What are your thoughts on that?”
Seriously, I have used this on family, friends, clients, vendors, you name it. It works! No one has said “No” so far, and those who have said “Yes” have been very appreciative.
Just as important is the impact this transformation has made on me, as the person offering up information. I find that I am no longer invested in the results. In other words, I am not upset if the person who asked for my feedback/information follows through with it or not.
I feel that the recipients have heard me and that they will use the information I provided if they so desire. However, I am not upset when they decide to do something completely different.
The magic formula moves the discussion from:
THEM: “What should I do?”
YOU: “You should do this!”
THEM: “What should I do?”
YOU: “Here’s some information that I have that might be useful for you as you address your issue. Good luck with solving your problem!”
As I said at the beginning: The urgent conflict is now a calm discussion; a passionate, emotional exchange now has a purpose; and advice that can sound like criticism is now filled with compassion as we merely exchange ideas.
MARSHA-ISM: “ ‘No’ is a complete sentence.” Enough said.