Charming Disarmament

Amelia Chan

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Have you ever met a disarming person who handles a potentially volatile situation by bringing calm, rationality, and resolves? These people are a rarity who appear to exude an unusual charisma. Their confidence gives them an air of authority to take control of the situation and redirect the energy of the interaction.

While the word ‘charm’ might carry mystic allusions, it is actually rooted in day-to-day doings of HR and good leadership. For those who prefer that broken out, here are five fundamentals:

  1. Prepare Ahead

    It isn’t always possible to prepare for a tough conversation. But there are times when having a strategy helps ease anxiety and leads to a better outcome. Finding or creating a moment to self-reflect and understand what the discord is about and how your part in the situation prior to the meeting can make a difference. You don’t have to create a script but it is important to know what you want to get across so you can stay on point. This helps both parties feel in better control and respond less reactively.

  2. Practice Listening

    How often have we experienced an explosion of emotion after trying repeatedly to get our points across when we feel misunderstood, ignored or unheard? Listening to someone builds trust. Disagreements are an opportunity to explore and learn. Even if you don’t agree, letting someone else’s opinion be expressed helps brings a calmer balance to the exchange. Although it takes practice and effort, you have to slow down and calm down to listen. When both parties are “in the moment” and not waiting for the next opportunity to fire back a retort, the interaction changes.

  3. Put the Relationship First

    Unless you plan to walk away forever, it is imperative to work through conflict. The other party is likely feeling as frustrated or uncomfortable as you. Trying not to shut down and providing a bit of space for movement (on the subject), enables both people to save face. Taking away judgement and clarifying your position, even in disagreement, helps establish respect. Not every exchange has to be the final word and the last chance to make a point. By taking a longer-term timeline, where work colleagues or business partners continue to be in your work life, then you are going to be “in it together” at least for the foreseeable future. In that case, working through a disagreement is part of building a stronger relationship. Getting someone on your side is as much about you being on their side. Open dialogue is the key to building bridges and mutual understanding.

  4. Choice of Words Matter

    It is surprisingly effective to change the tone of a conversation with a different choice of words. By choosing neutral or more positive terms, you can switch from an adversarial position to a more objective balance. Acknowledging an opposition’s viewpoint shows the other party that what they think matters. It’s the perceived judgment that often intensifies the scenario. Letting someone be heard is neutral; and it shouldn’t be confused with your stance about the issue itself. The reason we fear confrontation is we don’ think we can handle the response when we disagree. Moving away from negative or judgemental words can change the conversational tone. Providing some room for discussion to unpack the potential conflict opens minds and builds trust.

  5. Neutralize the Emotional Charge

    Emotional engagement is important because it shows someone cares. However, if these emotions are mishandled, sensitivity can get in the way of progress. You need to guide the energy towards dealing with the issue and away from the potential turmoil. If you keep calm and consistent, the other party will be more open to unpacking the disagreement together. However, if they feel ‘blamed, shamed or attacked’, they will be on a defensive mode. The key to calming things down is to be able to separate the issue (neutral event) from the judgement (emotional response). While not always easy to do, this approach helps put the focus on rationality instead of volatility. Even if you don’t win someone over to your side, you can at least persuade them to lower their level of agitation.

    Practising the art of persuasion can be a powerful way to demonstrate shared humanity. Don’t fear disagreement but embrace the chance to communicate differently and to develop social capital. A disagreement is an opportunity to connect and understand better, not as a battle to conquer. Adjust your mindset and notice the difference a little charm can make.

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