Carla and Timothy were part of the team working on a crucial project. Timothy was tasked with completing all aspects of the design. Unfortunately, he missed a deadline by several days, and Carla was miffed.

Truth: People don’t always live up to our expectations. It can be all to easy to go from, “He didn’t submit his part of the project on time” to “He doesn’t care about this work.”

Snap judgments may have been a necessity in primitive times. It was all well and good for Cavewoman Carla to conclude that the large, noisy beast was the enemy and quickly react. Unfortunately, modern day humans still jump to “instant conclusions” based on limited information – even when it isn’t a life-or-death situation.

We really like to think we’ve got people figured out, and we know why they did this or that. When our emotions come into play, we interpret the other person’s behavior based on our own “story” about what happened. This happens so quickly that the story seems factual. “Of course he isn’t invested in the project. Otherwise, he would have met the deadline.”

The story is amplified when we complain to others, who confirm that our story is true. “Yea, he’s always late. What a slacker.”

The authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High studied how top performers communicate when emotions run high. One insight is that great leaders don’t make the leap from behavior to implication. They stick to the facts when giving feedback.

“Your part came in three days late. It caused several people to scramble at the last minute. We did not have time to review your portion before completion.”

Stick to the facts when you need to confront someone. Ask questions about what happened and why. Remember the goal – to understand and correct the situation, not to prove that your story is right!


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