“My neck,” the manager said, “is on the guillotine.”

This manager had an influence problem.  It involved a project team that didn’t report to him—but he was accountable for the results. 

I was coaching him, during a workshop, on what to say. 

His first draft:  “When a project goes bad, I feel distraught, because of my neck . . .”

Years ago, I learned, and then modified, a method for stating your case from an excellent book:  “People Skills,” by Robert Bolton.

The format (modified) sounds like this:  “When X happens, I feel Y, because of Z.” 

X is the problem; Y, your reaction; Z, the business impact.

Let’s critique the guillotined manager’s XYZ:

X:  “When a project goes bad.”

Plus:  His X avoids attacking or blaming.  He didn’t say, “WHEN YOU SCREW UP a project.”

Minus:  What does he mean by “a project goes bad?”  

I picture food that’s gone bad—it’s buried in the office refrigerator like an archaeological relic. 

You wonder, What food group could this possibly have belonged to?

It’s best not to wonder, either about food or messages.

Let’s be specific.  What the manager really meant was, “When we miss a deadline.” 

Fine—say that. 

Y:  “I feel distraught.”

Plus:  Saying how you feel tells the other person that the issue is important.

Minus:  “Distraught” is too emotional for business.  It’s like saying, “When we miss a deadline, I FEEL SO ABANDONED BY YOU.” 

That’s heavy.

What’s a business-appropriate emotion?  Try “concerned.”

You can be concerned that the project is late, concerned that customers will be unhappy, concerned that, in a moment of despair, you’ll probably eat the mystery food in the frig and die of food poisoning.

“Concerned” covers it all, with grace and, well, without concern.

Z:  “Because my neck is on the line.”

Plus:  Authentic.

Minus:  The business impact should be larger than any of your body parts, or whether or not you look good. 

Better:  “Because our reputation is on the line,” or “because, if we miss a deadline, that hurts our customers.”

Let’s pull this XYZ together:  “When we miss a deadline, I get concerned about the effect on our customers.”

Notice you haven’t imposed a solution.  That’s the next step—dialogue.

Tip:  Need to influence others?  Make sure your message keeps them engaged.

P.S. The best communicators practice. Check out these two Boston workshops, plus . . .

(½ day workshop) The Power of Presence: Maximize Your Personal Impact, March 30 (1-4:30 pm)

(2 day workshop—limited/7 people) Dynamic Speaking: Get Heard, Get Remembered & Get Results, May 4-5 (9-5 pm)

But maybe you prefer a fast—and surprisingly entertaining—book:

YOU’VE GOT 8 SECONDS: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World, named one of the best biz books of the year by an obscure, but obviously brilliant, Canadian newspaper. Available in print, kindle, audio.

“Both practical and funny, it’s a great read for anyone who wants to have more impact at work. Hellman has mastered the art of communication, and he lets you in on the secrets. Highly recommended.”
Tim Saeger, Executive Vice President and Chief R&D Officer, iRobot

PAUL HELLMAN consults & speaks internationally on how to make your point—fast, focused, powerful. For more info: please call 508-879-0934, or email paul@expresspotential.com

P.P.S. Click here to get these fast tips.

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