I remember the first time I thought my diplomatic gifts could get me out of a jam. I was a teenager caught in the middle of a brawl between a friend of mine and a stranger in a back alley of Ottumwa, Iowa. Both young men were reckless, fierce and hell-bent on destruction. I tried to intervene with reason, empathy and humor, but the violence escalated.
This incident ranks as one of my worst life experiences. Luckily, everyone survived. But I was forever changed. I knew for certain that I never wanted to be in the middle of that kind of conflict again. And I realized that I could have saved my breath instead of trying to fight a battle I couldn’t win.
It’s the same in business. We often find ourselves trying to fight when the chances of us winning—of changing a person’s mind or inspiring a positive outlook—are slim to none. Still, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves in abusive situations.
- Never give anyone permission to mistreat you. Don’t allow yourself to be victimized in the name of niceness and certainly not in the name of perception. Walk away, get off the call or end the email chain as quickly as possible. By disengaging from an out-of-control situation, you demonstrate professionalism and self-respect.
- Always stay focused on the positive. Refuse to engage in mean-spirited hate talk. Save your energy for the things in your life and business that deserve attention.
- Shake off those guilt feelings. You can’t solve someone else’s problems. It’s their choice whether they want to get help for their issues or continue mistreating others. Just be sure that you don’t hold yourself accountable for their dysfunctional behavior.
Before you act …
The best defense is a good offense, right? Start by crafting some phrases that can help you exit bad conversations gracefully. For example, “I prefer to think positively about this issue” or “I’d be happy to talk about this when you’re in a mood to listen.”
Have you found yourself in a similar situation where you thought enough is enough? Share a comment below.