Communication & Alignment

Calm Your Confrontations With Clarifications

Joe’s department depends for its work on the output from Jane’s. For years, she has been sending her results to Joe a week in advance of the deadline for his contribution, allowing him to have up to three days to schedule assignments and two to do the actual work. Jane has always felt that this arrangement puts too much pressure on her. As a result, she has suggested shortening the timetable so that Joe receives her output only three days ahead.

Joe is incensed. He storms into Jane’s office and angrily accuses her of trying to disrupt his operation and damage the company’s product. It’s a heated conversation, and in danger of permanently fracturing their relationship.

In the midst of the one-sided argument, Jane remembers some verbal clarification skills she learned in a course on conflict management. She decides to put them to good use.

Paraphrasing

Jane tries to put Joe’s thoughts into her own words using a statement such as:

“Joe, if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that three days doesn’t give you enough time.”

Checking your perception

This is similar to paraphrasing, but adds a personal dimension. Here Jane states how she perceives Joe’s argument, perhaps giving it a spin from her own perspective: 

“As I see it, you need more time to schedule your work than to actually do it. Is that right?”

Jane is sending two distinct messages by paraphrasing or checking her perception. First, she’s showing Joe that she has been listening to his words. Second, she’s telling him her interpretation of the meaning of what he is saying. Both methods oriented discussion toward accuracy and exchanging information. Jane’s responses may cause Joe to pause and to re-explain his side in more civil and rational terms.

Describing behavior

Here Jane interrupts the flow of the conversation by commenting on what she sees Joe doing while he is speaking.

“Joe, you’re pacing back and forth, clenching your fists and acting upset.”

You might think that such an observation is a dangerous maneuver on Jane’s part, but it’s designed to make Joe aware of how he is coming across. It may make him hesitate and calm down.

Describing your feelings

Jane expresses her emotional reaction verbally.

“Joe, that makes me angry. We’ve had a good relationship for years, and you’re about to blow it away over an effort on my part to make us more efficient.” 

Business seems to have taboos about expressing emotions. It is because of these taboos that honest statements of feelings can be refreshing and can get conversation back to a less vindictive track.

Verbal clarification skills are useful in all confrontational situations. They can serve to open communications and steer the conversation to a more objective and rational course.

In the case of the situation involving Jane and Joe, there are compromises available. Whenever such a compromise is offered, one should always request feedback.

“Joe, it would help me a great deal if I had the extra time. How would sending the information to you four days ahead work?”

Most verbal clarification skills are aimed at understanding the other person. Requesting feedback completes the circle of understanding by making sure that what you say is being correctly received.

The final word

Verbal clarification skills almost never work when both parties are too emotional. Make sure, then, that when you try to use them, your own messages are calm and objective. When verbal clarification skills do work, they make for better cooperation, higher productivity, and a much more pleasant workplace.


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About the Author:  John A. Page, LFHIMSS

John is an accomplished executive with impressive senior-level strategic management experience and success recognized industry-wide for contributions to healthcare information technology and management systems. Nationally respected on topics of social media, technology and strategic business alignment, he serves as a Vistage Chair and Host of CEOIntroNet TV Chicagoland as well as an advisor to Boards and business leaders.

Category: Communication & Alignment

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John Page About the Author: John A. Page, LFHIMSS

John is a highly accomplished executive with impressive strategic leadership experience and success.  He is known as a change agent with expertise in defining business strategies and translating them into high-impact actions, new business op…

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