What approach can you take when someone believes that hurting others (insulting, accusing, and so on) is good and right and helps the other person become better?
This person believes it’s especially good to use anger, because it helps people remember your message more. They also believe that doing kind, considerate things is a form of approval seeking and therefore enabling and immoral.
I can’t find any mutual agreement with this person, and I can’t feel respect for him. After all, how can I respect someone who is not only abusive, but also believes that what they do is good and right? How can I have an Accountability Conversation with someone who says it’s good to insult but bad to be kind?
Can somebody please give me their thoughts on this predicament?
I am going to make a couple of assumptions here and I want to call them out. First, I assume you are in an on-going relationship (work or personal) with this person. Second, that the behavior you describe is, at times, directed toward you and you want that behavior to change.
If those two assumptions are accurate, then I have some hard truths and some suggestions to share. Here are the hard truths:
- If you are in an abusive relationship, you should get out of the relationship. You need to separate yourself from the abuser and get to a place of safety.
- If you believe that the purpose of Crucial Conversations is to change other people, to convince them that you are right and they are wrong, to compel them to your way of thinking, then you do not understand Crucial Conversations.
I hear so much pain behind your carefully constructed inquiry. I am sorry that you are in a situation with someone who is hurting you. So I return to the first two truths: if you are being abused, get out. If you believe that holding a Crucial Conversation is like waving a magic wand and will solve your problem, it’s not.
This is what a Crucial Conversation is: it is a dialogue in which both parties contribute and gain understanding about each other and themselves. Sometimes, but not always, that understanding leads to change. But the goal of the conversation is understanding.
So, how can you have a conversation with someone who behaves so differently from what you expect? Here are three suggestions:
Describe the Gap
Describe the gap between what you are expecting and what you are observing. Note that I did not say describe the gap between good behavior and bad. When we start a Crucial Conversation about a violated expectation or bad behavior, we step back and start with observations. Here is what I expected or would like to see, and here is what I am seeing. Then, invite the other person to share their perspective.
For example, “Yesterday, you raised your voice when we were discussing our plans. My expectation in our relationship is that we can talk about things without raising our voice in anger. How do you see that?”
When describing the gap, don’t simply call out the bad behavior you are seeing. Be sure to clearly articulate what your expectation is. The focus is not the behavior but the gap between behavior and expectation.
Share Natural Consequences
In your situation, it appears you have agreement on the gap. They agree that they use anger. The challenge is that they don’t see it as a bad thing. They see the gap but not the negative consequences of the gap.
Sharing natural consequences is perhaps the most profound and powerful way to help people decide to change. When others see how their actions are leading to negative consequences for them, they become more receptive to change. You can’t change them, but they can change themselves.
The challenge with sharing consequences is that we do it wrong most of the time. We share the consequences of their behavior that impact us. After all, the reason we are addressing the gap is because it is causing pain or problems for us. So when it comes to sharing consequences, our focus is on how we are impacted by their actions.
Sometimes this works because the other person cares enough about us to see the consequence to us as a consequence to them. But most of the time it falls short. The most powerful consequences to share are the consequences they care about. What do they want? What drives them? And how is this behavior holding them back?
It might sound like this: “You have talked a lot about how important it is for you to have positive relationships with our adult children. When you react to something with yelling and anger, I see the kids withdrawing, and I worry that you are damaging those relationships.”
Sharing a consequence, even one that is meaningful and motivating to the other person, is not like turning on a light switch. It is more like the sun rising. Insight comes with time and reflection, so don’t expect the other person to immediately come back with, “Oh my gosh! You are right! I never thought of it that way before.” That would be nice, but life isn’t a Hallmark commercial.
Set Clear Expectations
Once you accept the limits of what you can do, you are able to draw clear boundaries about what you expect. You can’t change people. You can’t compel them. You can speak up about bad behavior and violated expectations. You can share your perspective about the negative consequences of their behavior. But other people get to choose their own path. You only choose yours.
Get clear on what your expectations are. Share those. “I expect to be treated respectfully. I expect us to talk through our disagreements.” If those expectations aren’t shared or respected, you need to decide what the consequence is. When you do, you will establish your boundaries and what you are willing to accept.
I hope this helps.
How do you see it? Join the conversation below.