For context for this series, click the below links:
Original post from Jennifer and our initial response, “Thank You, Jennifer”
Our first “Dear Jennifer” post
March 27, 2020
Re: “You have the right to ask for what you want”
See – this makes sense and is what I should do more of. I was in a conversation with others today who were frustrated by people asking for what they wanted. I also wasn’t overly appreciative of the asks – it felt like so much work to explain why I couldn’t deliver. I hate it when I can’t deliver even when it isn’t my fault and then the effort to try to rationalize…
It is the end of a very long week and we are all tired. Heck, I do call this weekend and I can’t say that it doesn’t come with some trepidation- what if we get swamped?
But if I can remember this, maybe I can ask what others need at home? Maybe on call when the calls come in, I can ask the folks I am calling in to work what they need and maybe the world will seem a kinder place? Maybe our collective stress and sadness might be lessened just a bit?
April 6, 2020
Thanks for your reply. In this second email/post, I want to respond to what you shared (see above) about feeling frustrated by the nature of some of the asks that you are getting, along with the burden of trying to explain why you might not be able to deliver. I’d like to explore a specific skill designed for actually sharing some of these sentiments with others.
We call the skill the Five-Part “I-Message”. It provides a judicious, pro-social way to explain clearly to others how their behaviour or a situation is impacting you. It also places your own perspective in a larger context while paving the way for further dialogue and, if necessary, sharing your own needs more assertively.
The elements of the five-part “I-Message” are as follows:
Share the specific situation or behaviour that is impacting.
- “I feel/I get”…
Share how you are affected by the situation or behaviour.
Share why you are affected that way.
- // PAUSE //
Move to listening to understand, not debate (think: “Big ears, Big heart”).
- “What I need right now is….”
Share what you need.
So, the example you gave in your last email (see above) might look like this:
“When you ask for things that I’m unable to deliver, I end up feeling frustrated and guilty. I feel frustrated because I feel like you are aware of the limiting nature of the circumstances that I’m currently facing. And yet I also feel guilty because it’s in my nature to want to deliver, regardless.”
// PAUSE //
Now it’s their turn to talk. And you get to actively listen, to facts and feelings. Before you add…
“Okay, so what I need right now is for you to appreciate my current limitations. I also need you to understand that I’m doing my best.”
The fifth component of the skill can be softened or ramped up or dropped, depending on the circumstances:
- What I’d like right now… (soft)
- What I’d really prefer at this point is… (a bit firmer)
- What I need going forward is… (stronger)
- What I expect next time is… (still stronger)
- What I must have given the circumstances is… (even stronger)
- What I absolutely cannot have going forward is… (firmest yet, can be combined with others)
Our advice is to start more “low key” and only add strength if your initial attempts are not getting through and only if you still deem it important that you be understood in the moment. Your role in relation to the other person may also play a role in determining the intensity you adopt. Generally speaking, it is more acceptable – within a hierarchical system – to use softer language, tone and body language with peers or superiors and a firmer approach with your direct reports, though again we would generally counsel “going there last” with all.
Applied to Real Life…
A few weeks ago, while meeting remotely via videoconference and discussing some pretty stressful stuff, my colleague and I had a misfire. While we both ended up feeling frustrated, she also ended up feeling hurt. And she was stung and we were both flummoxed enough (“hey! we’re conflict resolution experts, aren’t we?”) that it became clear that it would be unhelpful to try to continue. One of our colleagues helpfully called it, suggesting we all take a breather and possibly regroup the next day.
After a coaching call from that same colleague to each of us, she and I then got on the phone for a one-to-one debrief. She was out walking in the wind and I was in my home office on the upper floor (as far away from my 14 and 12-year-old boys as I could get!).
We talked for close to 45 minutes. At first, we struggled. She seemed near tears and I felt shut-down. And we were both getting re-triggered.
Then she said it:
“Dave, when I shared my fears yesterday and you came back with a head response that put me more on the spot, I felt blown away. And also really hurt, because I thought it was obvious that I was already feeling terrible. So, your words at that moment kind of served to dump salt in the wound.”
// PAUSE // – Then I responded. But she still wasn’t feeling heard, and I could hear her mounting frustration and, more importantly, her “backbone” when she added the following words:
“Okay, so what I really need right now is for you to say what you just heard me say. I just need you to paraphrase me, okay?!”
Yeah…it was super intense.
And so, I did what I had been asked to do. And in that moment of trying to simply say in my own words what she had said to me – her feelings, her facts – and resist the urge to editorialise or slip in a “but”, something shifted. I felt it. It was subtle, not dramatic, inasmuch as my initial attempt at a re-state was not an immediate “home run” but, after a few more tries, proved to be, in her words, “close enough.”
Close enough for what?
Well, close enough to reawaken mutual goodwill. Close enough to allow for further vulnerability and listening both ways. Close enough for both of us to ultimately acknowledge that there were some things that each of us could have done differently the day before.
Close enough to keep going.