Keep others interests in mind

I subscribe to the This Is True mailing list. They ran an article a while back about someone giving Vice President Dick Cheney “a piece of their mind” and getting talked to by the secret service for doing so (the secret service accused the person of “harassing” and “threatening” Cheney). I’ve been trying to dig up the details on the story for those interested, but the details are actually irrelevant for the purpose of this article. In any case, it re-enforced one of my keys of good communication: always present an idea or opinion with the other person’s interests in mind.

Politics aside, whether it’s the President of the United States or the president of your condo board, giving someone “a piece of your mind” will rarely accomplish your goal unless your goal is to just “get it out of your system.” And I would suspect that if you’re the type of person who needs to get things like that out of your system, you wouldn’t be reading this article.

Let’s use an example which is politically neutral so everyone can look at it objectively. Let’s say you own a condo in a large building with 50 units. It’s wintertime and the condo board has to select a plowing company to handle the snow removal and there are two companies that they are considering. The condo board decides to go with the lower cost company, A-1 Plowing (this is meant to be a fictitious company), despite you trying to sway them the other way as you have a friend that used A-1 before and they tend to do their plowing later in the morning. So the condo board locks into a contract with A-1 that they can’t terminate until next winter.

Fast forward to the middle of the winter and as expected, there are problems. Half of the residents have to leave for work at 7 AM and A-1 doesn’t begin plowing until 8AM. So you run into the condo board president in the elevator and you have an opportunity to let him know how you feel. You could “give him a piece of your mind” and tell him that he’s stupid, but that won’t do anything productive. In fact, it would be stupid to do. Here’s why:

Your condo board president has probably heard plenty of complaints. On top of that, the contract has been signed, so the damage has already been done. Re-iterating that he made a mistake will only make this person who you may need help from in the future, resent you.

A better alternative would be to identify your goals and figure out how to achieve them when you talk to him. Here are some possible goals:

  1. To prove to the condo board president that you were right and he was wrong (all this does is appeal to your ego).
  2. To ensure that your opinion is taken into consideration the next time a big decision is made.
  3. To get the parking lot plowed out by 7AM so you can leave for work on time.

Here’s how I’d approach the condo board president if I were trying to accomplish goals 2 & 3:

“I know you’ve been getting a lot of complaints about the plowing situation. I personally regret not doing a better job communicating my feelings about A-1 as I know others that have used them in the past. But instead of complaining and finger pointing, I think it would be better if we all worked together as a team to come up with ideas for handling the situation.”

Doing this differentiates you as an ally, not a complainer. You are disagreeing in a polite manner without beating a dead horse. Of course, if the president truly is a jerk and tells you “that’s nice, we’ll consider it” and does nothing, then you have a different issue and we’ll discuss how to handle that in a future article.

If you act polite, positive and professional, you will have a better chance of getting someone to take the action you want them to.

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