Updated: Mar 13
Whether you’re speaking with a colleague, your spouse, a complainant, or a child, I’m sure we all agree that relationships can be challenging. Ultimately, it’s about having both an ability to communicate effectively and a willingness to solve problems. It can be difficult to remember this because these skills are often required in very stressful situations, with people who are getting more and more angry and whose behaviour is increasingly unpredictable!
No matter who you are dealing with you must let their attitude drift and focus on the behaviour. In other words, you must always show your professional face. This can be challenging because by simply watching the news, dealing with your clients, or listening to discussion around the water-cooler, you are exposed to a broad cross-section of society and it can be easy to believe that most people are very different than we are.
Think about how you might treat someone who has a very distinctive look. It might be hard not to stare, even if they caught your attention in a positive way. Do you socialize with people from a completely dissimilar part of town? Do you follow any social media accounts that post very different points of view than your own? If we’re being honest, most of us would admit that the more alike someone is to us, the more comfortable we are with them and the easier it is for us to interact with them.
Unfortunately, it seems like there are all sorts of factors designed to make us believe that there are fewer and fewer people who think and feel “like us.” Rather than focusing on how we are different, choosing to focus on how we are similar will help you effectively deal with others in even the most difficult situations!
There are Five Universal Truths in human interaction which remain valid for all people, regardless of differences in age, gender, colour, culture, or even political ideology! If you know these truths, and follow them, you will make very few mistakes, despite an endless number of individual differences.
1. EVERYONE needs to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their behaviour.
This isn’t about whether or not you deal with a situation; it’s about how you deal with it. If you are a security guard who has to ask someone to leave the premises, then you must do what is necessary to protect your site. The key is to speak to that individual factually, with words and tone that will not make them feel small, ashamed, or singled out. When you do this, it almost always prevents the situation from escalating; it keeps you safer, and benefits everyone involved!
2. EVERYONE needs to be asked rather than being told.
How many of us enjoy being told what to do? If you’re like me, not only do you dislike it, but chances are high that you won’t do what you were instructed to do anyway. When we are told, it feels like a duty, or an order, and most of us don’t take orders well. Humans have a natural desire to help others, so when people are asked, it brings them together; it creates trust, a feeling of teamwork and a sense of cooperation. When we use statements like, “Would you mind…?” and “Is it possible…?” we give people control, making it more likely they will cooperate. When we ask someone to do something it shows them respect and most often empowers them to make the (right) choice for themselves!
3. EVERYONE needs to know why they are being asked.
People are much more likely to comply with a request if they understand the reason for it and explaining “why” shows someone they are worthy of an explanation. Sometimes explaining why will start a positive conversation or identify ideas you may not have considered. It can make the other person feel like they have some say in the outcome and allow you both to look at the situation with a different perspective. When people feel that they are seen as honest, reasonable and fair, most will be cooperative. Explaining why is a universal sign of respect and when you take the time to do this, approximately 70% of people will do as they’re asked… even if they if they don’t agree with the instruction!
4. EVERYONE needs real options – not threats.
If you are a parent, you likely already know how frustrating bedtime can be, no matter how well-behaved your child normally is. Try asking them if they would prefer to go to bed at 7:00 and have a story, or if they would rather go at 7:15 and go right to sleep. We all like to have control, even at five years old… or maybe especially then! Making threats often leads to resistance – verbally and sometimes even physically. When you offer real options, you increase satisfaction, build compliance and keep everyone safer!
5. EVERYONE needs a second chance.
If you’ve asked someone to do something, you’ve explained why, and you’ve identified some good options, but they are still verbally resistant, don’t take action yet! This is often where we run out of patience, but try rephrasing the expectation to ensure the other person understands what is required and to refocus them on the present situation. You can give them another chance to follow your direction by saying, “Sir, is there any way I can get you to help me out on this? I’d like to think there is something I can say to earn your cooperation.” When you give people a second chance it allows them to comply without losing face, and results in them doing as you’ve asked about 98% of the time!
Think about a time when you were treated poorly by someone who focused on your differences, rather than your similarities.
1. How did it make you feel?
2. When thinking about how others want to be treated and the Five Universal Truths, what will you commit to when you are the one in a position of power?
The next time you are dealing with an irritable co-worker, an angry customer or someone whose behaviour you don’t understand, instead of focusing on how you are different, try focusing on how you are similar. Use the Five Universal Truths to find some common ground and tell us how it helped you to move the interaction in a more positive direction! To learn more skills on dealing with challenging individuals and situations, take our Tactical Communications and Strategic Conflict Resolution courses!