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Shields Up

I was prepped for a fight not knowing I was going into a negotiation.

Scene: a young professional (me) sitting in a 2-office suite with my new boss and the secretary. The secretary hands me the phone and says, "This woman is HOT and rude and wants to talk to someone."

As a co-adult in the world, it's not acceptable to treat someone badly because they're the janitor, secretary, or work in food service (as examples). And as a young professional, I'm going to show the secretary that I won't tolerate her being treated like that. I'm also going to show my boss that I won't tolerate people treating our front-line folks badly.

Jaw set, armor on, weapons ready.

I take the phone and IMMEDIATELY meet the caller where she is. I'm not budging, I'm antagonistic, and I'm not giving an inch. Because you don't get to treat people that way and you don't get to make demands because you want something.

This went on for several minutes. She's accused me of being a bureaucrat, not reading the paper, and being just one more obstacle in her way.

I don't know what changed. If it was her sharing that I was the 5th person she had been transferred to. If it was her exasperation trying to do something good. Or if it was my own inner oogie-meter that finally went off reminding me that this isn't how I normally do business. But something happened.

"Okay, wait. This is not getting us anywhere. Let's please start from the beginning with your original question that you asked the first person you called."

With this reset, I heard her request and realized there might be an opportunity to be of assistance. After making some calls to see if we could do what I thought we could, I called the individual back and told her we could help and gave her instructions from there.

If I could go back and take that call from a position of curiosity rather than judgment, I would. While a fine story of how not to engage people, it was unnecessary stress and frustration spent for no good outcome.

Next time you go into a situation ready to rumble, ask yourself why. Why am I choosing to be antagonistic? What is another way to ethically and meaningfully address this situation? Sometimes an argument is needed; but not every time.

Leaders who lead leaders benefit from this curiosity because when the heat comes, usually from all directions, trying to fight everyone all at once will serve no one. Saying 'no' is easy and it takes more energy to be open to what others are saying to truly hear what they want to communicate. But from my point of view, the result is worth the effort.

We've all had the rough moments. It would be great to hear your story of your confrontational error so we may all learn from your earned wisdom.

Cover Photo by yogurt on Unsplash

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