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She was wrong about always sticking with a discussion, no mat­

ter your emotional state. It’s perfectly okay to suggest that you

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need some time alone and that you’d like to pick up the discus­

sion later on-say, tomorrow. Then, after you’ve dissipated the

adrenaline and have had time to think about the issues, hold the

conversation. Coming to mutual agreement to take a time-out is

not the same thing as going to silence. In fact, it’s a very healthy

example of dialogue.

As a sidenote on this topic, it’s not such a good idea to tell oth­

ers that they need to calm down or that they need to take some

time out. They may need the time, but it’s hard to suggest it with­

out coming off as patronizing. “Take ten minutes, calm down,

and then get back to me.” With others, get back to the source of

their anger. Retrace their Path to Action.


“YEAH, BUT .. .

MY TEENAGE SON is a master of excuses. I talk to him

about a problem, and he’s always got a new reason

why it’s not his fault. ”

The Danger Point

It’s easy to be lulled into a series of never-ending excuses-par­

ticularly if the other person doesn’t want to do what you’ve

asked and learns that as long as he or she can give you a plausi­

ble reason, all bets are off.

“I go to work before my son leaves for school, and he’s con­

stantly late. First he told me that he was late because his

alarm broke. The next day the old car we bought him had

a problem-or so he says. Then his friend forgot to pick

him up. Then he had a hl!ad cold and couldn’t hear his new

a I” 1’1ll . Thl!11 . . . ”




The Solution

With “imaginative” people, take a preemptive strike against all new

excuses. Gain a commitment to solve the overall problem, not sim­

ply the stated cause. For instance, the first time the person is late,

seek a commitment to fix the alarm-and anything else that might

stand in the way. Repairing the alarm only deals with one potential

cause. Ask the person to deal with the problem-being late.

“So you think that if you get a new alarm, you’ll be able to

make it to school on time? That’s fine with me. Do what­

ever it takes to get there on time. Can I count on you being

there tomorrow at eight o’clock sharp?”

Then remember, as the excuses accumulate, don’t talk about the

most recent excuse; talk about the pattern.



WHAT IF THE PEOPLE you talk to not only are angry. but

also become insubordinate? How do you handle that?”

The Danger Point

When you’re discussing a tough issue with employees (or even

your kids) , there’s always the chance they’ll step over the line.

They’ll move from a friendly dispute to a heated discussion and

then into the nasty territory of being insubordinate or acting dis­


The trouble is, insubordination is so rare that it takes most

leaders by surprise. So they buy time to figure out what to do.

And in so doing, they let the person get away with something

that was way out of line. Worse still, their perceived indifference

makes them an accomplice to all future abuses. Parents, on the




other hand, caught by surprise, tend to respond in kind, becom­

ing angry and insulting.

The Solution

Show zero tolerance for insubordination. Speak up immediately,

but respectfully. Change topics from the issue at hand to how the

person is currently acting. Catch the escalating disrespect before

it turns into abuse and insubordination. Let the person know

that his or her passion for the issue at hand is leading down a

dangerous trail. “I’d like to step away from this scheduling issue

for a moment-then we’ll come right back to it. The way you’re

leaning in toward me and raising your voice seems disrespectful.

I want to help address your concerns, but I’m going to have a

tough time doing so if this continues.”

If you can’t catch it early, discuss the insubordination

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