You're not in charge of facilities, but your boss screams at you about the lack of toilet paper in the bathroom. You reply:
"I'm not in charge of that! Don't yell at me!"
"I didn't know. I'm sorry, I didn't realize. I'll go buy some right now."
"Would you like me to call facilities?"
Answer 1 is in the heat of the moment. The screaming match is now about how you treat each other. It has nothing to do with toilet paper or job responsibilities at all.
Answer 2 is when we're feeling unsure of our job stability. We assume responsibility for an absurd thing (TP!) because we're terrified of showing our boss that he's off his rocker.
Answer 3 is turning a personal attack into a statement of fact. It's respectfully not taking ownership of an absurd thing. It's calmly taking care of the situation while quietly showing your boss that even as he behaves unprofessionally, you're not joining him there.
Toilet paper is an easy scenario to not take personally (unless of course you are in facilities). It gets hard to stay unemotional when the attack is about something that could be a mistake on your part.
The key to managing a personal attack is to identify the tone of voice. That's the trigger that sets us all off. The slightly high-pitched, whiny tone with an edge. Yes, that one. I'm guilty of it; we all are at some point. We're triggering others when we do it and others trigger us. Identify this tone and you'll be proactively ready to turn it into a statement of fact.
Read aloud these trigger questions in your best high pitched whine, then read aloud the responses in a (1) scared tone and then a (2) calm, confident tone. Go for it:
Why is this project late?!
"Susan didn't get the data on time! It wasn't me!" OR "I've just received the data from Susan and the deliverables will be ready by 9 a.m. tomorrow."
When is the report going to be ready?!
"Thursday! I told you it would be ready on Thursday and it will!" OR On Thursday, as promised."
How did you come to that conclusion?!
"I, um, I, well I..." OR "It makes sense to me and here's why:..."
It's how we separate the emotion from the fact that gives us the ability to stay focused on the topic and not get caught up in the spiral of emotion. Now you are in charge of setting the tone of the relationship and communication style. Talk about power.
(Image by Alan Cleaver)