How to Be Honest—But Not Too Honest—with a Coworker
When you think of a person who “acts professionally” or “behaves like a true professional,” you’re probably not thinking of an emotional person. On the contrary, “being professional” implies demonstrating self-control, tact, and reserve.
Does that mean your feelings should never come up at work? Well, yes and no.
For better or for worse, sharing too much emotion won’t do you any favors in most offices. However, you also don’t want to stifle your emotions—because sooner or later, they might come bursting to the surface.
To learn how to walk the line between too emotional and not emotional enough, read on.
Don’t: React Immediately
Imagine you’re in a meeting and your coworker says something dismissive—and more importantly, unjustified—about your idea. That’s the worst time to react. Not only will you be at your angriest, but you’ll lose the opportunity to formulate the right response.
So, rather than voicing your knee-jerk response, which probably goes something like, “Actually, Clarissa, you’re completely off base, and let me tell you why,” simply smile and say, “Thanks for your feedback, Clarissa! You’ve got a great point about X, but I’d also like us to consider…”
Then, wait a couple hours or even an entire day. In this time, you can calm down, get some perspective, and figure out exactly how to tell your colleague how you feel.
Do: Use “I” Statements
Let’s say you go to this coworker and tell her, “You made me feel belittled when you criticized my idea during yesterday’s meeting.”
She’s probably not going to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll never do that again!” After all, your statement is an accusation, meaning she’s put on the defensive.
“I” statements are usually much more productive. For example, you could say, “I felt belittled when you criticized my idea yesterday.”
Note the issue has become about how you felt, not what she did. This shift makes it easier on the other person to keep an open mind.
Don’t: Be Vague
If you give vague, generalized descriptions of your emotions or their causes, it’s pretty difficult for other people to change their behavior appropriately.
To give you an idea, first consider how you’d react if your boss said, “I don’t feel respected within the office.”
You’d be concerned, but you probably wouldn’t know how to change your behavior without more information.
Now, think about how you’d react if he said, “I feel disrespected when you show up late to our one-on-ones, push back when I give you corrective feedback, and act disengaged during our department meetings.”
While this feedback will be hard to hear, it’s far more useful than the first statement. Now you’ve got the information you need so you can adjust.
So, when you’re sharing your own thoughts with a colleague, direct report, or supervisor, use specific examples or situations.
Next time you’re trying to be just honest enough, remember to give yourself some time, start with how you were feeling, and stay away from vague statements. You’ll be able to get the problem on the table for a good discussion without causing further conflict.
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