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#7 - Words Will Never Hurt Me

“Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Remember singing this as a child in the schoolyard, trying to deny the sting of the taunt thrown your way? Sadly, the words would still hurt, and at times deeply.

As a coach, I’ve heard this many times from both managers and employees seeking solace after a verbal attack by a colleague, or a supervisor. The words are often thrown carelessly into conversation after the speaker experiences frustration or anger. The listener feels the cut and either lashes back or is paralyzed. Either way, the fallout is impressive: The opportunity for solving the issue evaporates into thin air, motivation is destroyed, self-esteem is in tatters, and if you’re the one who launched the attack, you’ve inadvertently created a hostile work environment.          .... And all it took is a few careless words.

What do you do when you find yourself at the point of lashing out?  Recalling these 2 useful hints may save you from months of damage control.
  • Avoid labels such as: “You’re unprofessional, a poor communicator.”  It may seem like a shortcut for a possibly lengthy conversation, but this language is full of judgement and is simply unacceptable in the workplace. Guaranteed it will come back to haunt you.
  • Have a regular check-in: Make every effort to have a genuine conversation before you’re exasperated. Regular, consistent dialogues to outline expected results, and to be clear about the impact if they’re not met, will prevent a painful head-on collision.   
And of course, every conversation is a two way street. So what do you do if you’re at the receiving end of a barrage?  This is certainly a very disturbing situation.  Here are two guiding principles to help you quickly take control of this scenario:
  • Keep your wits about you: Resist the temptation to yell back. It will only escalate the situation and the opportunity to resolve anything is sadly lost.
  • Tap into your inner leader: The person on the attack has lost control of him/herself and the situation. This may be your chance to firmly and calmly ask for the sequence of actions that led to this conclusion.  Also inquire about what needs were not met to bring about such a reaction.
In other words, see if you can start the genuine conversation that needs to happen.  It could be that the one lashing out is reacting to something that has nothing to do with you… If this course of action proves impossible, seek the help you need from your HR specialists at work.

Today’s topic brings up many important follow-up questions for creating and sustaining genuine and respectful conversations in the workplace.
  • What do you do about the bully at work?
  • And what if you’ve been down the road of regular dialogues and nothing seems to change or improve?
  • How do you give genuine feedback?
Very timely topics indeed! And I look forward to sharing more Tuesday tips with you this Fall.

~ Dominique
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