How to Clear the Air

Have you noticed?  When people clear the air they change the oxygen level in the room, making it easier for everyone to breathe. They earn the respect of others who become more open to their influence.

With so much to gain, why don’t we do it more often? I believe that the fear of looking bad, not being liked, retribution and hurting people’s feelings are fears that commonly hold us back from having authentic conversations.

Case study in how to clear the air

Dare to Clear the Air

A brilliant consultant, Carlos, participated in one of our courses several months ago. He intimidated his teammates with his quick, analytical barbs and condescending tone. He was a corrective bore. He lacked true influence within the company since no one wanted to work with him.

In the first half of the course, Carlos was flat and dismissive as though the entire ordeal was a waste of his time. He kept his head down and doodled while his teammates gave their presentations. He rolled his eyes, checked his smartphone and turned his back to the presenters.

During the private video review, I asked Carlos, “How do you feel about being in this workshop?”

He mustered an appropriate response, “Fine. It’s good to learn tips and techniques.”

“I ask because you appear to be in pain.” Carlos was surprised—even puzzled. For the next few minutes I had his wide-eyed attention. I gave him specific examples of his non-verbal communication and asked, “What do you think this communicates to your teammates?”

His eyes filled with tears. I got the feeling that no one spoke to Carlos this way. He let his guard down long enough to allow all the posturing and the nonsense to fall away.

For the rest of the course he was softer. He was more engaged.  In his final presentation he allowed himself to be vulnerable.

His teammates responded. They listened. They were more open and accepting.

To be fair, this kind of dialogue is easier for me because it’s my job. But if you are going to influence others, you are obligated to say something real in the midst of the sea of inauthentic communication we live and work in.

Leaders thoughtfully challenge assumptions and decisions when they disagree. Leaders trust their experience and their intuition in crucial moments of choice. They make simple statements that draw on common sense and seem obvious once they are stated.

Seven ways to clear the air

If you are going to “play big,” you must be willing to engage people in high-stakes conversation.

When something happens that threatens a relationship what do you do?  Instead of blaming, beating around the bush or being passive-aggressive, you can restore influence, trust and respect using these tips:

  1. Check your motive. Gather yourself up. If you want to blame someone, save it. If you intend to change something for the better, request a face-to-face meeting
  2.  Get right to it.  Tackle the hard stuff first, directly. Carl Jung believed that when you name something, you initiate change. Begin with, “Here’s the issue I’d like to talk about…”
  3.  Be specific. When giving feedback, talk about specific behavior. Don’t sugarcoat or generalize
  4.  Accept discomfort. A few minutes of discomfort is worth a great outcome. Express your feelings around the behavior
  5.  Own your part. Nothing happens in a vacuum. “Here’s how I have contributed to the situation…(be brutally honest)
  6.  Name the threat. Clarify what the loss of trust means to the team and state your desire to resolve this issue
  7.  Listen. Invite the individual to respond and participate in moving forward. Listen and remain emotionally and intellectually open to the conversation

Who is your Carlos?  There is a chance that you will be the only person who has ever told your colleague, client or employee that they are in their own way and keeping themselves from influencing the future.

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Avatar for Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.