This may be hard to believe but I have been accused of being somewhat abrupt. I have filters but, mostly, I let people know what I think. It goes with my life philosophy of trying to live a life free of hypocrisy. I’m not alone. My four brothers have the same problem. It’s in our genes. Gene’s genes to be exact (from our Father, Eugene). My brother, Matt (also a Navy Veteran and my best friend), has had to grapple with his mouth overriding his brain too. One such time came shortly after September 11th, 2001.
After the terrorists attacked the Pentagon, Matt, came to work at the Washington Navy Yard (where I was serving as the Director of Security) to be the liaison between the military and the families of those who died on that tragic day. It was a stressful job. He worked long days and dealt with not only the bureaucracy within the military but also with delicate matters of the heart – tending to those who had lost a loved one. One day, a cocky administration officer came down to his office and informed Matt that he was taking one of his copiers. When he asked which one he could take, Matt pointed to one and said, “that one.” The officer asked, “Why that one?” To which Matt replied, “Because that one’s broken and I don’t need it.” Infuriated, the officer said a few choice words and stormed out of the office. Granted, this may not seem like a bit deal but, within the rank structure of the military (Matt being junior to this officer), it ruffled this officer’s feathers enough that he couldn’t stop talking about “that insubordinate Chief downstairs” for weeks.
Over 10 years later we still laugh about that situation and he’ll still state, “What else was I supposed to say? I couldn’t let him have the working copier, I needed it to get the job done!” He says that in jest because, over the years, we’ve both learned how to “package” what we say so that it doesn’t explode in others’ faces and we can still stay true to who we are. How do we package?
First, try to understand. Me? I try to start with asking questions. With the case of the broken copier, asking the questions of why, what for and how long would’ve have opened a dialogue and (at least) made that particular officer feel heard. The workplace is full of scrimmages for power. Going on the offensive causes others to do the same and, pretty soon, all we have are several watered fire hydrants marked for territory gain. Asking questions and trying to understand sets a tone of understanding and then allows you to be heard.
Second, state your case. (Okay, state your case in a non-explosive way.) In this case, I don’t know if Matt had stated his case it would have made any difference (this officer was kind of a tool). However, I like to believe that it would have. My experience has been that reasonable people can reach reasonable solutions when logic is present and when stated free of emotion. That’s how to package ! After I state my case, if I I want to put a bow on the package, I’ll be empathetic with the cause and share a smile (if appropriate).
To this day, all of us five boys grapple with Gene’s genes and our mouth’s want to override our brain. Seeking to understand first through asking questions and then stating the case has helped me (and my brother) package things in such a way that they doesn’t explode in another’s face. I hope it helps you do the same!