How you handle awkward moments can say a lot about how well you manage people. Let’s take one example.
People do a poor job communicating from time to time. Mitch offers an idea without have given it much thought. Jackie explains things poorly. Roberta wanders off subject. Mike speaks over the level of a listener’s comprehension. Jennifer makes her point but keeps on talking. Kent uses too much jargon. The list goes on and on.
In short, people miscommunicate all the time.
Sometimes they realize they’re failing, and sometimes they don’t. Either way, when it’s happening, it feels awkward.
When it happens during your staff meeting, or during a coaching conversation, or when someone is responding to your presentation, it can catch you off guard. What to do?
Hit the pause button.
When this happens, you should have two thoughts in mind – how do I get this cleared up, and how do I prevent the communicator (the sender) from becoming embarrassed. You might have an impulse to say something like this:
- “You willing to put that in English?”
- “And what’s the point you’re trying to make?”
- “Are you really that stupid?”
If so, resist that impulse! There’s a far better response:
- “Help me understand…”
Let’s unpack this. Saying “Help me understand…” takes the psychological ownership of the issue from the sender and puts it on you. It lets the sender know that something’s not coming across but does not lay guilt or blame on the sender. It neutralizes the feedback and takes away the sting.
Further, it’s an invitation for the sender to assist you, and most folks like to be helpful when there’s an opportunity. After this moment has passed, the sender may reflect on their communication mistake and take a lesson from it. But in the present, what’s important is clarifying the communication and moving on.
“Help me understand…” is putting it on you and taking it off them. They can pivot from being embarrassed to being helpful. Others in the room who share your experience of the communication as a blunder will also learn that you’ve chosen to take the high road.
That’s what good leaders do – they take the high road.
A little practice and you’ll soon be adept at handling these awkward moments. Good luck!