Carole was a great collaborator. In most situations at work she was eager, fun and creative. However, she had one constant complaint. It was about Brad. Problem was they were on the same team and she had to find a way to work with him.
Her complaint about Brad? “He always” so she would say in frustration, “He always had to have the last word.”
Her other complaint “He never asks her questions, only tells her his opinion.”
And then she would top it off with “I could never report to a jerk like him.”
Brad, well, he had similar issues with Carole. “Hey,” he would shrug. “You can never count on her to listen. She always has to have the upper hand. You can never win with her.”
“And” He would add with a sigh, “She never asks questions. Only tells you what to do. What a bummer. I can never win with her.”
However, Brad was known to say “I would like to find a new way to talk with her. Maybe we can find a better way to communicate.”
To which Carole would say to friends, “It will never happen!”
Personality conflict? Of course!
However, it goes beyond their personalities. They are stuck with words that deflate and defeat, even the best of relationships, stuck in that very familiar world of “Always ” and “Never.”
These are two of the most destructive words you can use mainly because they shut down the route to possibilities for interpersonal collaboration.
Think about where you use these two words.
Where do you “always” and where do you “never?”
I bet, you’ve heard these words, like poison arrows, shot at you since you were a kid. Stuff like “You never do what I tell you” from a parent. Or, “You always have to show off in front of my friends” from a sibling.
What do these words do?
They set up a power battle. Sadly, a power battle that can’t be won. The words always and never create antagonism. They set it up so the other person must prove to you, that you are wrong. Or, they will feel defeated and a barrier is created that cuts off real communication.
Here’s what you can do. Filter before you speak. Just about everything in life is fluid and can change. Even the most offensive of relationships has the power to be redirected with good intentions.
Rather than make the “always” and “never” claims, use words like “often” “regularly” or habitually” when you want to point out a frustration.
Give room for a response. Ask, don’t tell.
Most of us, habitually were put into that very small “always” or “never” room when we were given a time -out as a kid. The discomfort of those words stays with us even when we are strong, competent adults. Often, there is a natural tendency to feel a sense of shame, frustration, or defeat and conversation shuts down.
Dale Carnegie, author of the well-known book “How To Make Friends And Influence People” suggests that “90 percent of all management problems are caused by miscommunication.” Notice he didn’t say “always.” He left some room for other possibilities.
And here’s what happened with Brad and Carole.
Brad was promoted and became Carole’s boss.
And Carole proved herself right. She soon left the company because she could never report to a jerk like Brad. And guess what? In her next job, there was another Brad. She’s now looking for a new job. Want to hire her?
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.