“O” Magazine a while ago has a section called “Now What Do I Do?“, in which various solutions are offered to ethical and etiquette questions posed by readers. A coaching client sent me a copy of November’s issue, which discussed this issue:
What’s the perfect answer to the infuriating question “You know what your problem is?”
Three responses were suggested in “O”.
First, a simple, “I do, thank you.” (This leaves the person with no opening to expound further.)
Second: “Don’t tell me, or I’ll have no more mystery in my life.” (Sarcastic. Cute. Shuts off further conversation.)
The third answer is not a cutesy or stinging comeback, but a recommendation to the recipient of the criticism, and this is the response most in tune with my thinking as a business relationship coach. “If you have the self-possessed fortitude to listen to the answer without defensiveness, you will most likely learn something about yourself – and about the person who’s got you all figured out!”
When others criticize us, it’s easy to go on the defensive, which only escalates argument, alienates the other person even more, and turns the relationship worse.
Instead of a flippant or angry retort, try thinking of the admittedly needling question as a clue. “Do you know what your problem is?” is in fact, a clue to information. You absolutely need to have this information about that other person, and, even more important, about yourself. Going on the defensive just drives away truth, and truth is the food of personal and business growth. It’s okay to get the truth on the table, keeping in mind that, as relationships go deeper (and that’s our goal in this Beyond Networking blog), it won’t always be smooth sailing.
And, so here’s the challenge I want to pose to you: Next time someone asks The Question (perhaps a business partner, an employee, or even someone with whom you’re in a heated discussion), how about taking a deep breath, then calmly responding, “It seems I don’t really know what my problem is, and I’d sincerely appreciate your insight. I mean that, so please tell me what’s going on and I promise to listen.”
Difficult to carry off? You bet. But with that kind of “come-back”, everybody ends up winning!