I said “Explain” You heard “Defend”—Now What?

This past Monday I was working with a client who was making a choice I found…..mysterious. Given that, I asked,

“Can you explain your thinking to me?”

To which he responded,

“I don’t see why I have to defend myself.”

Um…How did we get here?

The tricky thing in moments like these—and I didn’t catch it in that moment–  is to flag the confrontation before attempting to continue the conversation.

But because I didn’t I continued, “No—I’m not saying you have to do it my way, I’m asking you to tell me why you want to do it your way.”

So, starting with “No” was a bad idea…. Also, exacerbating the sense of  confrontation with “my way” vs. “your way” wasn’t the best choice I’ve ever made. 

After a short break during which we both hydrated (I can’t say enough about pausing for a hydration break when people are agitated. It calms everybody down.) I was able to come up with,
“What I was trying to say is that I’m not wedded to my idea— yours might be better! Can you help me understand your thinking?”

What can you learn from my wacky Monday fun?

  1. Notice when the “D” word has been invoked. If someone is using “defend” it’s more than likely s/he’s feeling defensive.
  2. Stop talking. Hydrate.
  3. Abandon the word “Explain.” Instead use “Understand” This takes the onus for the communication breakdown on you.

I will also mention that—if possible–  you must maintain a tone of genuine inquiry. Nobody enjoys the sensation of being on the witness stand…..

Frances Cole Jones