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How to Take a Punch at Work (Part 2)

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

In How to Take a Punch at Work I talked about my love of boxing and one of my all-time favorite boxers, Micky Ward.

As I said in the article, some boxers love the art of the sport, the “sweet science” as they say. Some love the money or the fame. But some boxers actually just enjoy getting punched in the face.

And Micky liked getting punched in the face.

What this really means is that Micky accepted and learned to relish the scariest part of his profession. He wasn’t immune to fear and I’m sure it hurt like holy heck when he took a hard left-hook to the jaw. But Micky learned to love, as great boxers do, developing the skills to operate, survive, and thrive in an inherently hostile environment – the ring.

So how do you to take a punch at work? Well, unless you’re a professional fighter or a thug for a loan shark, I hope that actual fisticuffs are not a regular part of your day.

Most “punches” at work come in the form of criticism and confrontation from colleagues and supervisors. Leading conflict is not just about throwing punches. You also need to know how to take them.

Here’s a few simple strategies that will help you take the next punch that comes your way.

Thank the person for confronting you. What? Are you crazy? Thank the person? Yes. I am a little crazy, but I’m also serious.

After the person is done with their initial confrontation or criticism, you should say something like this: “Thank you for talking to me directly. I really appreciate it and I’m sure that was difficult for you.” Bringing concerns to someone directly takes courage and that deserves to be acknowledged – even if you totally disagree with the content of what they are saying.

Just listen. Really, just listen. The hardest discipline to learn is when to just shut your trap. The person you just thanked needs to know that you are actually hearing them. In fact, this is typically 80% or more of what they actually want from you – to know that you’ve heard them. They might not be fully aware of it, but it’s true.

The more someone feels listened to, the less they will ask of you during and after the confrontation. The conversation itself will give the person most of what they need. This will save you time and energy in the future.

When people are in the midst of being confronted, they typically send a barrage of physical and verbal cues signaling that they cannot wait to speak, retort, tell their side, and talk over the other person. These cues always escalate the conversation, because they make the other person afraid that they are not being heard.

My mentors excelled at simply listening to people. Often, even when they could have argued or challenged the other person they would simply wait in silence during pauses in the conversation and then ask, “Is there anything else?” Sometimes the other person would say a little more and sometimes not.

The other person always looked a little confused at first, but in a good way. After all, they likely came into the room ready to brawl. But...

First, they were thanked. And then, the other person just listened and didn’t argue with them. This strategy is disorienting because you are not following the expected script that assumes you will be resistant to hearing them and giving in to any requests.

Ask what they need from you. Next, simply ask something like, “What is it that you need from me?” Encourage the person to be specific. They are not likely to have thought about this before they confronted you. You might need to help them get concrete.

If you don’t understand what they are asking of you, be sure to ask for clarification. Don’t patronize them. Say something like, “I want to make sure you get what you need. Can you say more about X?” Or you might need to say, “Can you tell me more about what that would look like?”

You can ask someone what they need from you even if you don’t completely understand everything that brought them to you in the first place. Instead of challenging and dissecting every detail in their version of events, it is sometimes a better use of your time to simply ask them what they need.

At this point, you are actively helping them receive something that they thought would need to be extracted by “force” and argument.

But honestly, sometimes people just thank you for listening and don’t ask for anything else.

The final step is…

Make sure you both have a clear understanding about what’s next. Simply repeat your understanding about what needs to happen now and/or how things will be different in the future.

That’s it. Don’t rehash earlier parts of the conversation. Thank them again and let things end at this point.

This simple framework is especially helpful when you feel panicky or have no idea how to respond to someone. That’s kind of the whole point. You don’t need to have all the answers. The other person does most of the work.

Also, this is a pretty good summary of how you want people to respond when you confront them, right? Well, if you want your colleagues to learn how to take a punch, you need to show them how it’s done.

Check out the Leading Conflict store for practical and hard-hitting resources that will help you put these ideas into action.

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