How to avoid causing offence

A tactful person can tell you something you don’t want to hear and you will be thankful for the information when they are finished. Unknown.

How to express your opinion without offending anyone
Expressing your opinion or adhering to your values and beliefs without offending someone can be tricky. In a world where putting other people down is considered funny, communication skills are diminishing as diplomacy is being lost. Have you ever expressed your opinion to be shot down, condescended or ignored? Not everyone will think or feel the same way about things that you do, so how do you articulate your opinion without instantly receiving a negative reaction?

How to resolve conflicts without offending anyone
Conflict is not inherently bad. In fact, conflict stems from differing viewpoints and since no two people view the world exactly the same way, disagreement is quite normal. Don’t let conflict go unresolved because it can get out of control and it’s uncomfortable for all those involved. The key to managing conflict effectively is to learn the skills necessary to become a good conflict manager.

Tips for being a good conflict manager:
– Try to determine if there is a problem between you and the other person
– If there is a problem, set up a private face-to-face meeting to discuss it with the other person
– In a non-confrontational manner, ask the person if there is a problem. If the answer is no, tell them that you think there is and explain what you think it is
– As you talk, ask for feedback, do not “attack” the other person with accusations
– Keep an open mind and listen
– Respect each other’s opinions
– Avoid finger pointing and put yourself in the other person’s shoes
– Try to work out a compromise that pleases both of you.

How to respond when someone insults your convictions
An appropriate response when someone insults our values, opinions or beliefs, can make all the difference between managing a potential conflict or fanning the flames.
– Don’t react immediately: gather your thoughts before saying or doing anything
– Speak up, in a calm and rational manner. If you don’t want to let the comment pass, then ensure your response is reasonable and not a reaction
– Don’t take things personally, if the comment was offhanded and from someone you don’t know well, there’s a chance that person has no idea the remark may have offended you. Rather than assuming the statement was intended to be insulting, give the benefit of the doubt and allow for some ignorance on the part of the speaker
– Ask the questions: find out why the person said what they did. Maybe the person had a personal vendetta that made him speak out so strongly. If that is the case, accept it and move forward
– Play devil’s advocate and generalise the argument to deflect from it becoming personal: “You could see it that way, but there are also those who see is this way”
– Identify yourself with tact and generosity for the other person’s point of view – even though that person didn’t really accord you the same courtesy. “I respectfully disagree, (and explain why)…”
– If you still haven’t made your point, let the other person know that she/he is entitled to an opinion, likewise, so are you. Explain that you found their remarks to be hurtful and ask them to tone it down for the sake of courtesy
– Take the high road: maintain your cool. At the end of the day, if you are kindly and gentle in your response, he or she is the one who looks bad to others present. The only thing you need to worry about is what kind of person you are
– Maintain good manners, always appear helpful and polite. Even if they intend to insult you, others will draw their own conclusions
– If you feel overwhelmed during a confrontation, get a drink to occupy your hands
– Keep an open mind, if the other person appears to be making a logical argument, they may also have information about the issue that you were unaware of before – this could be an opportunity to learn something new!

How to offer criticism without causing offence
By altering your wording and your attitude, you can help someone grow.
– Avoid direct accusations – leave the word “you” out of it, it will make the person defensive and then they won’t listen to what you have to say
– Soften with compliments – this will lower their defences and make them feel appreciated. Think of the feedback given on a reality talent show “I really enjoyed your performance today, your dance had a lot of complex movements, and you chose the perfect song to complement your message – you put a lot of effort into it. There were just a few technical errors which also lead to pitch problems when you were singing – but overall, you were great”
– No “buts”. After you’ve shared your compliments give them time to absorb – a “but” will destroy all you’ve tried to accomplish by making your praise seem false and insincere.
– Advise with advice – help the person grow instead of shooting them down “Next time you might want to slow down your dance moves. I find it helpful when I let the back-up dancers take over so that I can concentrate on my singing – this keeps my act alive”
– Be specific – be detailed in your advice but don’t overload them. You want them to keep trying and improving, so don’t let them leave feeling defeated
– Three tactics include:
* Choosing your words carefully. In order to get your point across, will be the ultimate deciding factor of your effectiveness. Be conscious of the consequences of your words when reprimanding
* Sandwich technique. Start with a compliment, tell them where they can improve, finish with a compliment
* Think of the bigger picture. Be calm and relaxed before you think of attacking back. The person that loses their cool first, is the one that doesn’t get their message through clearly. Keep in mind others feelings when you are speaking to them, be patient with yourself and others.

How to disagree with someone diplomatically
Reflect your understanding of the other person’s position or opinion, and then say “I think/feel/want…” which gives the message that you are listening and taking their opinion into account before stating your own.
– Let the other person know that you value him/her as a person although your opinions are different. “I understand/appreciate/respect/see how you feel that way” which says “I hear you and respect your opinion”.
– State your position or opinion “I feel/think/want” which says that you don’t agree but you value them and would like to exchange ideas comfortably and not as a contest for superiority.

Quick tips: how to communicate without offending people
– Address or correct the act or event, not the person
– Respond after fully listening and understanding the position of the other person, don’t interrupt
– Speak in a normal, respectful and loving tones
– Avoid devaluing a person’s statement or thinking
– Disagree without being disagreeable
– Always be polite and use your manners
– Treat others the way you want to be treated
– Don’t jump to conclusions or assume, repeat what they have said to verify
– Be courteous and have manners
– Maintain eye contact when conversing
– Avoid being blunt and dogmatic
– Encourage growth and change – you will attract more bees by honey than you will by vinegar
– Give grace and don’t expect perfection
– Avoid being rash with your words
– Be more interested in winning people than winning arguments
– Speak words that build people up
– Listen first to understand than to seek to be understood
– Think before you speak and react
– Avoid being judgemental, critical or condescending
– Always assume the best in people
– Be humble and gentle when correcting people.

What to do if you have offended someone
– Understand what you have done to offend the person. Be empathetic from their shoes
– Think about what you want to say to make things right
– Talk to your friend (face-to-face) about the situation, apologise to them privately, state the reason why you said what you did, explain how you feel and make suggestions on move forward (don’t forget to maintain eye contact)
– Exercise patience and respect your friend’s space if not all is forgiven
– Being ready to talk it out is key. Be sincere, honest and prepared to take responsibility.

Resolving conflicts in meetings – without offending your teammates
Conflicts in meetings can be helpful. If the person disagreeing with you is raising valid questions, it may benefit the group to address the issues they are presenting. So how do you get a meeting back on track when it’s spiralling out of control?
– Find truth in the other person’s perspective that you can build on
– Identify areas of agreement in the two positions
– Defer the subject to later in the meeting
– Document the subject and set it aside to discuss in the next meeting
– Ask to speak with the individual after the meeting or during a break
– See if someone else in the meeting has a response or recommendation
– Present your view, let things be and go on to the next topic
– Agree that the person has a valid point
– Create a compromise
– Remember you’re both on the same team!

Resolving conflict in negotiations
There are certain principles you can apply to increase your chances of a successful negotiation when conflict arises:
– Avoid defend-attack interaction
– Seek more information: ask questions
– Check understanding and summarise: ensure you are understanding everything
– Understand the other person’s perspective – communication is more than just listening – try to see it their way!

How to say “no” without offending anyone
“This sounds interesting, but unfortunately I am swamped with other projects at the moment”. This statement shows interest which gets the person you’re communicating on side, you’re validating the importance of what they have pointed out, but you are still politely declining.
“I’m really sorry – but the last time I ______, I had ______(a negative experience)”. This will work because no one will intentionally want to hurt you. The statement takes the focus off what you want or do not want to do and remains at the bad experience you had.
“I’d love to _____, but _____”. This says that you like the idea, you are willing to help but you just can’t at the moment. The trick is to try to avoid going into a lengthy justification or it really will come across as an excuse.
“This sounds great, but I’m not the best person to help you – why don’t you try asking ___?” If you honestly feel you can’t contribute to the task at hand, lacking time and resources, be proactive and helpful about it. This statement let’s the person know up front that you cannot commit to help, but you can refer them to someone who can assist you.
“I can’t do this, but I can do ______ (lesser commitment)”. This is a fast way to get you off the hook and avoid over-extending yourself. While saying no, you are still offering help on your own terms by making an easier, less time-consuming commitment.
“You look great, but ____ does not do you justice”. This is the most diplomatic way of expressing your opinion to say you don’t like something about someone’s appearance or taste in clothing, without hurting their feelings.
“That sounds great, but unfortunately I’m busy for the next few weeks. How about I call you ____ (specific time range).” This gives you time to reflect and consider something before making a final decision.

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