Tongue Fu What to Say in Difficult Situations Top 7 Tongue Fu Tips

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Tongue Fu

What to Say in Difficult Situations

Top 7 Tongue Fu Tips
By Sam Horn

Would you like to know what to say when you don't know what to say? This article explains how you can think on your feet and communicate more constructively with colleagues, customers, even kids. This article presents tips designed to help you respond pro-actively to challenging individuals.
What is Tongue Fu, you ask? "It's how to handle difficult individuals without becoming one ourselves," says Tongue Fu author and teacher Sam Horn.
Tongue Fu Tip #1.

When people complain, don't explain,

Take the AAA Train. Explaining why something wasn't done when it was supposed to be done makes people angrier because they feel we're making excuses. Instead, Agree, Apologize, Act. "You're right, Mrs. Smith, we were supposed to send that brochure to you last week, and I'm sorry you didn't receive it yet. If I could please have your name and address again, I'll personally put that brochure in an envelope and make sure it goes out today." Voila. Complaint over!

Tongue Fu Tip #2:

Has someone accused you of something you didn't do?

Don't defend or deny it. If someone blindsides you with an unfair allegation, "You women are so emotional!" and you protest with, "We're not emotional!" you've just proven their point. Instead, put the conversational ball back in their court with, "What do you mean?" Asking them to explain themselves will cause them to reveal the real issue and you can address that instead of reacting to their attack. Imagine an upset client claims, "You don't care about your customers." A hurtful denial of, "That's not true. We pride ourselves on our quality service" would only serve to turn this into a "Yes we do - No you don't" debate. Instead ask, "What makes you think that?" The client may harrumph, "I've left three messages and no one's called back." Aaahh, now you know what's really bothering her and you can give her the attention she wants and deserves.

Tongue Fu Tip #3:

Stop disagreements with a hand gesture.

No, not that one! If people are arguing and you try to talk over them, what will happen? They'll talk louder and the voice of reason will get drowned out in the commotion. Putting your hand up like a policeman will cause them to pause for just a moment, which gives you a chance to get your verbal foot in the door. Then say these magic words, "We're here to find solutions, not fault." Remind them that John F. Kennedy said, "Our task is not to fix the blame for the past, it's to fix the course for the future." If the conversation starts deteriorating into a gripe session again, make a T with your hands and call out, "Time out. Calling each other names won't help. Instead, let's focus on how we can keep this from happening again."

Tongue Fu Tip #4:

Have to give bad news?

Don't use the apathetic words, "There's nothing I can do." A front desk manager at a hotel in Hawaii asked, "What can we say when people grumble about the rain? There's nothing we can do about the weather. We're not Mother Nature." I told her, "The words, 'There's nothing I can do' come across as a verbal dead-end. People will feel you're brushing them off, and they'll get more vehement in an effort to make you care. Use the words, 'I wish,' 'I hope,' or 'There's something' to let them know you're at least trying to help them. Say, 'I wish I could bring out the sunshine for you. I know you were looking forward to some beach time' or 'I hope it clears up soon. In case it doesn't, there's something I can suggest. Here's a list of rainy-day activities so at least you can make the most of your visit even if the sun doesn't cooperate.'" In the real world, we can't always give people what they want. We can at least give them our concern and viable options.

Tongue Fu Tip #5:

Has someone made a mistake?

If something's gone wrong and we tell people what they should have done, they will resent us - even if what we're saying is right. Why? People can't undo the past. If they're being reprimanded for something they can't change, they'll channel their feeling of helplessness or guilt into antagonism towards us. My mom used to tell me, "We can't motivate people to do better by making them feel bad." Telling people what they "should" have done makes them feel bad and doesn't teach them how to do it better. From now on when people make a mistake, coach what happened with the words "next time" or "in the future" instead of criticizing what happened with the word "should." Now, you're shaping their behavior instead of shaming it, and they're learning instead of losing face.

Tongue Fu Tip #6:

Develop a repertoire of Fun Fu remarks.

Erma Bombeck (bless her soul) said, "If we can laugh at it, we can live with it." Are you sensitive about something? Perhaps you've put on a few pounds. You have a choice. You can be hyper-sensitive about this and give people the power to embarrass you, or you can come up with clever, non-combative comebacks and keep your wit(s) about you. Want an example? I ran into a very tall man in an airport. The people in front of me were laughing and pointing at him. I thought, "How rude!" until he got closer and I saw his t-shirt which said, "No, I'm not a basketball player!" The back of his shirt said, "Are you a jockey?" This man told me he used to dread going out of the house because everyone made smart-aleck remarks. He finally decided if he couldn't beat 'em, he might as well join 'em. "This is nothing," he said with a smile, "I have a drawer full of these shirts at home. My favorite says 'I'm 6'13" and the weather up here's fine.' Ever since I started wearing these shirts," he added, "I've had fun with my height instead of being frustrated by my height." Coming up with just the right remarks can help you lighten up instead of tighten up.

Tongue Fu Tip #7:

Turn "can't because" into "sure, as soon as."

Imagine a staff member asks, "Can I have my paycheck early? I'm going on a trip this weekend" and you answer, "No you can't have your paycheck because it hasn't been approved by payroll." That's the truth, however it's a tactless way of rejecting a request. The words "can't because" are like a verbal door slamming in people's face. Want good news? You can often approve requests with the words, "Sure, as soon as" or "Yes, right after." Re-word your reply to, "Sure you can have your paycheck, as soon as it's approved by payroll. Why don't we give them a call, explain the circumstances and see if there's any way they can speed things up." One manager said, "I can't wait to use this idea at home. My kids see me as a 'big meanie' because they're constantly asking for permission and I'm always telling them 'no.' Next time they ask if they can go outside and play with their friends, instead of telling them, 'No you can't, because you haven't done your homework,' I'm going to say, 'Sure you can, right after you finish your homework.' Instead of seeing me as the one who's keeping them from what they want, this makes them responsible for getting what they want. It changes the whole dynamic of our relationship."

Sam Horn suggests a group of "words to lose" phrases

that should be replaced with "words to use."






Next time

From now on

In the future

You'll have to

You need to

If you would ...

Could you please ...

Can't because

Sure, as soon as

There is nothing ...

There is no way ...

I wish ...

I hope ...

With these Tongue Fu tips, we can keep people from becoming difficult in the first place or at least not add fuel to their verbal fire by using responses that help instead of hurt. By communicating diplomatically, people have more incentive to respond in kind.

You can hear part of a Sam Horn's Tongue Fu presentation at
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