50 ways leaders say shut-up

We’ve all done it: We’re running a meeting and someone says something that just floors us, something like “That will never work – we’ve done it before and it failed. It will fail this time too.” You want to say something…pointed. But you know better. It’s your job to stay calm, cool, collected and above it all. To lead. To keep things moving. After all, there are 8 other people in the room and they are all looking at you.

So you say everything but what’s on your mind. You say, “I understand your point of view, but” Or “Thanks for that, John. Let’s get back to our…” Or: “I think it will work and here’s why.” Or “Things are different now and I need your help.” Or, you say “That’s great, John, we’ll explore that in a minute,” but your palms are facing John and pushing toward him. Pushing him and his ideas away. Running right over him.

Everyone of those tells John to shut up. He hears it, and so do the other 8 people in the room.

There is another choice, and it works better. By better, I mean faster and you get to take John with you into the rest of the meeting.

Tell rather than show. Instead of showing your irritation, anxiety and time pressure, just say it. But not just part of it: Tell John all of what’s on your mind. It might sound something like this: “John, I hate hearing that. I find it discouraging and that makes tense up and want to push right past you.” (Pause here and exhale. Notice that John has not exploded or expired from the force of your rage.) Then say the rest: “And, I know you’re trying to tell me something that’s important to you, so I’m going to do my best to listen. What is it you want us to know?”

Several things are possible now: John has a much better chance of articulating the information concealed in his unskillful first attempt (it is in there, and may have little to do with what he said at first), and you have a better chance of feeling more sane, human and connected as does the rest of your team. Chances are good that someone is smiling, maybe even John. Maybe you.

Even if John stands by his original complaint, it will have less bite. And, no one will be squirming.

Two things make this effective:

1. Say both sides of what you’re thinking – share both sides of your dilemma. You hate hearing it AND you know you must. Leave the first out and you risk sounding insincere; leave out the second and your risk sounding hostile.

2. Keep it in the present. This is not the time to let all your frustration at John’s past — and probable future — negativity spill out. It’s a moment – a moment for John, a moment for you. That’s all the weight it deserves. Staying in the here and now keeps it at the right level of intensity and lightness.

The careful reader will notice that I only listed 5 ways to say shut up. I was hoping to get your help with the other 45. I’ll start:

Refusing eye contact, saying nothing, looking at our watch, multi-tasking, reading anything, turning away, shuffling papers, talking over someone, interrupting, saying “I hear what you’re saying…”

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