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Put Out the Flames of Communication or Fan Them
It’s not easy being a fireman. Every day we have the opportunity to fan the flames around us or to put the fires out. Literally, firemen and woman have a physically demanding job. They have to be able to carry 30kg of equipment and a hose that weighs about 100kg when at its water capacity. Then there are all of those steps that they have to be able to go up and down at will. For most of us, the physical requirements alone rule out this profession.
When it comes to communication, we all have the ability, figuratively, to be a fireman. We can put out flames, we can de-escalate situations. The other option is that we can also be the pyromaniac; we can fan the flames of discord between us or the flames between those around us.
The other day I talked to a client while on the treadmill at 6:30 am. He was angry and offended at the tone of a series of emails between a younger partner and himself. He thought she was disrespectful, rude, and pretentious. He had two options. He could fan the flames, get on his high senior horse and ridicule and intimidate her. Or he could put out the flames, reduce the amount of tension, and move both the issues and their relationship forward. He chose to be the fireman. He diffused the situation, put out the flames, and moved their relation forward in a positive way.
Let’s look at another situation. A high level peer called out another high level peer for two transgressions. The situation needed what I call a hero, a communication hero aka Kevin Costner. Peer #1 had the option of fanning the flames or putting out the fire. You always have the option of being the fireman without having to carry the 100kg hose.
The Vice President of HR “accidentally” forwarded an email to the person talked about in the email instead of the intended recipient. It wasn’t just an email; it was a thoughtless email bordering on insubordination. The person, who did receive it by accident, had the option of being a fireman.
Here is your choice. Follow this 3-step plan and be a fireman. Don’t follow this plan and be a pyromaniac. The choice is yours for every communication challenge.
Find something to agree on and say it verbally. Find some small piece of a situation or content to agree on.
Move forward using questions. Resist the temptation to state or talk someone into your point of view.
Identify a course of action that all can agree on. Start with small steps.
Firemen risk their lives but they don’t do it every day. Every day we figuratively risk our lives when we get too close to the flames in a communication fire. Even if we want to reduce the heat of the fire, it can be risky to get so close to the flames. Keep in mind that you always have the option of putting out the fire or fanning the flames.
by Leslie Ungar