Friday, 12 February 2010

"If - thens".. are they wrecking your life?

I was recently in a conversation with a colleague at work. It was always going to be a difficult subject to discuss, and when I asked the question, I received a comment (I am paraphrasing):

"If that means you want it to happen, then I will have to speak to your manager."

From that point on, the conversation quickly descended into a classical adversarial sparring match. Emotions spiralled higher and the real meaning of the meeting was lost.

Later on, I had a revelation - it is the "If - thens" that cause many of our problems. Very often, we do not take what people say by their face values. We attach different meanings and make inferences as to each other's true intentions. That's when the "if" part of the statement is made. Next we get to the "then" part - having pre-empted, we assign consequences to the action. In this case, he will speak to my manager. "If Thens" are classic fear-driven, consequence-threatening statements that raise the stakes of almost every conversation we have.

So what do we do? We guard against the "If Then" trap. Replace "If Then" statements with "I Can" statements.

Instead of saying:
"If you're going to take that stance, then I will have to report you."

"I think you may be taking an incorrect stance. Can we discuss this?"

Can you see how the threat and fear is taken out of - what is essentially the same message? Don't believe me? Go through your day and listen to your conversations. Find out how often you use "If Then" statements. You might be surprised at how often you use them. Learn to put aside "If Thens", and you will find people warming to you more as the fear and threat is taken from your vocabulary.

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