Many of us want to say the right thing in just the right situation.
We get this image in our head that we can totally diffuse a situation with our words.
That we can make other people feel something. Feel better. Feel comforted. Or maybe even feel defeated to the point of silence.
Maybe it’s because movies are often like this. Two characters are experiencing an important situation and one of them is able to say just the right thing and the movie can finally reach its conclusion.
But is real life like that?
More often than not when the situation is challenging it’s better to let it sit for awhile. It’s better to be silent than it is to make the situation worse by trying to say the right thing.
You can probably think of times when you’ve said the wrong thing to your partner or to a friend or family member. You probably had good intentions. You wanted to say the right thing, but it turned out to just make things worse.
Let’s focus on the business side of things. Because the same thing happens there all the time.
Here are a few tips…
Analyze Your Anger
Sometimes it’s easy for our anger to immediately come out of our mouths (or keywords). We feel anger and within seconds it’s out in the world for business associates to see.
You’ve probably experienced it. You’ve probably done it yourself.
It’s usually not just one thing that sets it off, but a lead up to the breaking point.
For example, an employee makes a mistake. Then does it again. Then one more time and finally your anger boils to the point that you lash out. Now the situation escalates, the employee resents you and everyone else can see a side of you that doesn’t look good for a leader.
Instead, it’s better to analyze your anger. Look at why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling. Look at your role in the situation. Have empathy for the person.
In this example, look at the training the employee has received. Have you done enough to help them? Have you put them in the right place to succeed? They may need to be let go because they aren’t capable of the job. That’s not a reason to be angry.
Hold The Advice
Not many people like getting advice.
Even when it seems like they’re asking for advice they’re usually not. They’re more likely just looking for validation for their situation.
And many times we just give advice without even considering if the other person wants or needs it. We just go around offering our opinion on what other people should be doing.
Usually this unsolicited advice just makes situations worse. Especially in the business world. It might be different in a boss/employee situation where the boss is training the employee.
But take a situation where you’re a client and you’re working with another business. It can seem like you’re helping the business by venting your frustrations. And they may listen. Your feedback may be valid, but unless the person is open to receiving it the situation may just become worse.
And that’s the key to advice. Hold it in unless you’re sure the other person wants and is ready to receive it. Even if they ask you for your advice followup with the question, “Are you sure…”
The big thing with advice is that people want to help people. But they rarely want the person they’re helping to be themselves. It can feel that you’re doing good by giving advice. But it often comes off as hypocritical. Someone tells you that you should do something and all you’re thinking about is what they should fix about themselves.
When you’re in a situation where you find yourself feeling the urge to offer advice try again to go to empathy. Think about what the other person really wants. Ask more questions.
Then look at what you control in the situation. What can you do better? What do you control? Don’t expect others to improve. Don’t think that you can solve all their problems with your advice.
Yet it can seem that most often people are more willing to open their mouth for the negative.
As someone in business, especially with employees, it can seem like you’re helping your team by pointing out what they do wrong. It’s easy to feel like they should know what they do well because you don’t mention it. It can feel like you’re paying them to do well so they shouldn’t need to hear about it.
But that can wear people down. Even a little negativity here and there builds up over time. Eventually it can lead to resentment and the feeling of, “Do I even do anything right…”
The next time you’re about to open your mouth with critical feedback think about how it will help the situation. See if there is a way to offer positive feedback to reinforce good behavior.
These are just three situations where we often open our mouths and make situations worse. They happen in business all the time. And there are certainly more. The big takeaway from this topic is to take a breather before opening your mouth. Avoid the urge to say something to improve the situation because often the situation is improved by remaining silent.