Personal responsibility, is it your thing? The ability to communicate one’s opinion is a right; at least it is in the USA . But, what about one’s responsibility to communicate? Unfortunately, it is not a requirement. I believe every individual has the personal responsibility to communicate directly, sincerely, and honestly in situations of conflict. But, today so many want to play it safe and defer troublesome conflict by using a referee.
Recently, I read in one of the “Ask” columns published in the Los Angeles Times. A woman was looking for a neighborly way to resolve her issue of a neighbor’s cigar smoke floating into her townhouse. Unfortunately, the guidance the author of this “Ask” column offered was flawed. The columnist offered some data about the hazards of second-hand smoke and a recommendation to the woman to ask the cigar smoker to smoke somewhere, other than the smoker’s own patio. Sure thing, like that’s going to happen.
Outside for Solutions
Why do you suppose this woman needed to consult the “Ask” columnist about her challenge? Could it be, as John Grey stated in his book, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus that women tend to solve problems by committee and she needed several opinions? Or could it be that this woman was not confident enough in herself to chat with her neighbor about the problem? After all, she did ask for a “neighborly” solution—leading one to believe that she was not an extremist on the issue. But, why does this woman think she needs a referee to help her?
I find it both interesting and disturbing that so many people believe they have to seek outside guidance for simple problems like the above. What ever happened to sincere communication? When did we quit talking to one another? Where’s the personal responsibility?
Recently I heard a Trader Joe’s radio commercial that made a pungent point. The announcer stated that, unlike their competition, Trader Joe’s does not have big screen monitors in their stores. Rather, the announcer stated that one would only find customers engaged in lively conversation with other customers and crew members at their stores. I thought about this when I visited my local bank branch later that day as there was a huge screen with some sort of programming on it. I guess it was to keep me occupied so I would not talk to other bank customers about how long the line was and why they did not have more help scheduled for the afternoon?
Talking is Good for Personal Responsibility
In contrast to what we all learned in school, talking is good. Listening to another person’s point of view and experiencing their window on the world eliminates distrust, misunderstanding, and encourages possibilities. What happened to sincere communication with others? In the above cigar smoke challenge, the woman could have acknowledged the cigar smoker’s right to enjoy a cigar on his own patio while also explaining the challenge she was having with his smoke ending up in her house. On this subject, I firmly believe that two people can have a reasonable discussion leading to resolution.
Since smoking a cigar is generally a 30-90 minute activity, she could have nicely asked the cigar smoker to give her a quick shout or phone call before he lit up so she could close her window until he had finished his cigar—each compromising a bit and offering the other a concession. Now how difficult is that? But instead, the “Ask” columnist suggested an in-your-face un-solution. The columnist’s un-solution will only lead to escalated conflict. Like the smoker is really going to go somewhere else and smoke his cigar after his neighbor get’s in his face? Sure, that’s really going to happen!
Eruption of Conflict
I have been a professional speaker and consultant in the area of business relationships for over two decades and it never ceases to amaze me just how many problems, in both the workplace and in personal lives, are caused from poor communication. This ugly problem seems to rear its head at an ever increasing pace. Workplace communication is frequently misunderstood and lacking personal responsibility on the part of the sender, and receiver.
What does this mean to you? In communicating with others, you have to take personal responsibility to be clear on the end result you are seeking. Only then can you make a request of another. Also, if you want something, you’ve got to ask for it—and not through a referee. Ask in a way that urges, motivates, and makes the other person feel good about giving you what you want. The woman that was seeking to eliminate the cigar smoke in her townhouse could have easily done this. How much more difficult would it of been for the woman to have had a conversation with her smoking neighbor, than taking the time to write to an “Ask” columnist? In the end, she received faulty counsel.
Reluctant to Communicate
Talk to one another; take a moment to be courteous and you’ll be amazed with your results. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out, just a little bit, by asking questions. Use questions that allow you to take the temperature of another person’s feelings and attitude. Then utilize the age old adage; listen twice before speaking once. Ask a question and then be quiet and listen. Let the other talk. Please do not try to verbally over power the person to whom you’re speaking—I see this all the time. Rather try to understand what the other wants and needs. Make an effort to help them get what they want and they will be more willing to help you in return. And, please—be careful of receiving advice form newspaper “Ask” columnists…take personal responsibility.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.