Magazine article Talent Development

Ten Tongue Fu! Tips: Train Your Tongue to Deflect, Disarm, and Defuse

Magazine article Talent Development

Ten Tongue Fu! Tips: Train Your Tongue to Deflect, Disarm, and Defuse

Article excerpt

Want to know what to say when you don't know what to say? If so, you're in the right place. These Tongue Fu! tips will help you communicate more constructively with co-workers, clients, supervisors, and suppliers.

What is Tongue Fu!, you ask? It's best defined by an incident that took place while I was flying to New York for a media tour. I needed to double check a quote, so I pulled out my copy of Tongue Fu!: How to Deflect, Disarm, and Defuse Any Verbal Conflict from my purse. A woman across the aisle from me glanced at the title, grabbed the book out of my hands, and pronounced, "That looks interesting. Tell me what it's about!"

"Well," I answered, tongue planted firmly in cheek, "it's about how to handle difficult people without becoming difficult ourselves." She chuckled, and we had an enjoyable conversation.

The following tips are designed to help you respond proactively to challenging people in the moment, instead of your having brain freeze and thinking of the perfect response on the way home.

Tongue Fu! Tip 1. When people complain, don't explain; take the AAA train: Agree, apologize, and act instead of explaining why something wasn't done. That can sound as if you're making excuses, and it might make some people angrier. The better way: "You're right, Mrs. Smith, we were supposed to send that brochure to you last week, and I'm sorry you didn't receive it yet. If I could please have your name and address again, I'll personally put that brochure in an envelope and make sure it goes out today." Voila! Complaint over.

Tongue Fu! Tip 2. Has someone accused you of something you didn't do? Don't defend or deny it. Instead, put the conversational ball back in their court with, "What do you mean?" Asking the person to explain herself will cause her to reveal the real issue, and you can address that instead of reacting to the attack.

Imagine an upset client exclaims, "You don't care about your customers." Responding, "That's not true. We pride ourselves on our quality service" would only create a yes-we-do, no-you-don't debate. Instead, ask, "What makes you think that?" The client may harrumph, "I've left three messages and no one's called back." Now you know what's really bothering him, and you can give him the attention he wants and deserves.

Tongue Fu! Tip 3. Stop blaming--by using a hand gesture. No, not that one! If people are arguing and you try to talk over them, what usually happens? They talk louder, and the voice of reason is drowned out in the commotion. Putting up your hand like a police officer stopping traffic will make people pause for a moment, which gives you a chance to get your verbal foot in the door. Then say these magic words: "We're here to find solutions, not fault." Remind them that John F. Kennedy said, "Our task is not to fix the blame for the past; it's to fix the course for the future." If the conversation starts deteriorating into a gripe session again, make a T with your hands and call time-out, saying "Calling each other names won't help. Instead, let's figure out how we can keep this from happening again."

Tongue Fu! Tip 4. Are people swearing at each other? Hold them accountable. Physically (gently) separate them, tell them they'll each get their turn, and then pull out paper and pen. Suggest, "Start at the beginning and write what happened."

Now, they have to think back and relate events in chronological order. That moves them from an emotional frame of mind to an objective one. They're now reporting instead of ranting and raving, and they have to slow down to write. Once they slow down, they'll calm down. Taking notes motivates most people to clean up their language because they don't want documentation of their temper tantrum or verbal abuse.

Tongue Fu! Tip 5. Fast-forward through frustration with the empathy phrase. Next time you're feeling irritated with someone, ask how you would feel if the situation were happening to you. …

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