Are you accusatory?

by Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC on July 19, 2012

It’s easy to get angry and defensive when someone accuses you of something you didn’t do.

Yet have you examined if you speak in accusatory language?

For example, a colleague didn’t get a recent email I’d sent. When discussing this, he said, “You didn’t respond to my email.” I knew I had, but was abroad at the time and we both knew I’d had trouble with some email getting through.

I said, “Yes, I did respond.”

He said, “No you didn’t.”

Why would he argue with me, essentially saying I was lying?

I learned long ago to only speak about what you can attest to. He knew he hadn’t received the email, not that I hadn’t sent it. It would have been less irritating if he’d said what he knew: “I didn’t get your email.”

But by accusing me of not sending it, his words were inflammatory.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but an important one. When you surmise a colleague’s behavior or actions, you create problems. Telling a caller “She’s in the bathroom” when really you only know she’s not at her desk is making up the truth, even if you know she usually takes her break at this time. Unless you just left the bathroom and saw her there, everything else is conjecture. The truth is “I can see she’s not at her desk, but I’m not certain where she is.”

Anytime you begin with “You didn’t…” see if you can rephase it to “I didn’t receive…” or even “Perhaps I missed it, but I can’t find your response.” It gives the other person some grace, as they just may have done what you’re saying they didn’t. Accusing someone is not a rapport builder nor communication beginner. If you want to have a positive, ongoing relationship, don’t start with blaming them.

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Daniel Moirao July 20, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Rebecca,
Your article is so right on. I often wonder why it is important to some to be more right, when it really isn’t a life changing event. Language is so interesting to me. I really believe many folks don’t realize that certain words are “trigger” words that hamper communication and promote hostility. Is it worth the argument or do we let it pass in the name of good relation?

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