Some people can’t help themselves.
This person has an opinion. That’s great!
This person shares the opinion in your meeting. That could be great too, except when it’s not.
You see, instead of sharing the opinion with sensitivity and respect, this person delivers it with a load of snark and ill-will.
The results are predictable. Anger rises. Trust tanks. Suddenly, your meeting teeters on the edge of disaster, just because one person couldn’t make a statement with more skill.
Time to step up
With storm clouds darkening, someone needs to save the day. It may as well be you.
To defuse the situation, you will call on your ability to reframe incendiary statements.
The first thing to remember is that these sorts of statements contain multiple messages. Some useful. Some not.
Imagine that Sue has just proposed a project deadline for two weeks from today. Jerry reacts by saying, “Some people may be able to dedicate all their time to this project, but my area has real work to do.”
Jerry may have meant to convey that he couldn’t meet the deadline and possibly that he didn’t think this project was as important as the day-to-day activities. Sue will likely take away a different message. She probably heard that Jerry doesn’t think her stuff is important, and that he doesn’t think she is as busy as he is. Her natural reaction will be to defend herself, and the fight will ensue.
It would be great if Sue could respond in a non-defensive way, but it will be difficult in this situation. This is where you or another meeting participant could help deescalate what is certain to be a tense situation. The goal would be to reframe Jerry’s comment in a way that puts the useful parts on the table for discussion and leaves out the rest.
Skillfully reframe the statement
Here’s how to do it. Instead of waiting for Sue to defend herself, jump in with a response that reframes Jerry’s statement. Say something like, “Jerry, it sounds like you believe the deadline is going to be difficult for you to meet because of the current workload in your area. Is that right?”
Another option that focuses on the other possible piece of information Jerry may have been trying to convey would be, “Jerry seems to be raising a concern about where this project falls into our overall work priorities. Maybe we should spend a few minutes discussing that.”
Inflammatory statements almost always have the potential to add to the discussion if somebody can take the edge off them. Reframing is the way to do it.