Interrupting My ‘Retreat Statements’
I don’t like retreat statements but I realized that I do it a lot in conversation.
I clearly assert an idea, opinion, or request… and then retreat from the statement, un-asserting the idea in an attempt to head-off a conflicting or awkward response to the assertiveness. It’s as if I’m apologizing for what I just said.
Reflexively spouting retreat statements is a hardwired habit. It’s like a flinch.
Examples Of Retreat Statements
You have an idea for a group project: “I think we could try X.”
Then you retreat: “It’s only an option, I haven’t thought about it too much yet.”
You don’t understand what someone is explaining to you: “I don’t understand X.”
You feel like it’s probably a stupid question: “Well, I mean, I’d assume that this part fits into that part.”
You want to discuss a friend’s bad habit: “I think you should quit smoking.”
Then you attempt to diffuse the tension: “Hey, I know quitting is difficult, maybe this isn’t a good time to talk about it.”
You’re negotiating a business contract: “We can sell for this price.”
Then you crack: “We might be able to do a discount. We’d need to discuss it though.”
Reverse the roles. Now you want a discount: “Could you knock 20% off the price?”
Then you flinch: “Well, you know 20% is a lot, maybe just take $5 off.”
You may even find your retreat statement reflex triggered for the smallest and least-important assertions.
“I think we should go grab Italian food.”
“Unless you don’t like pasta, in which case sushi or Chinese food would be OK too.”
Sometimes you retreat verbally. Sometimes it’s just with a twitch of your neck or eyebrows.
The Underlying Problem: I Doubt The Value Of What I Just Said.
I feel like I’ve gone too far, said too much, hurt the other person’s feelings, made the conversation awkward, spoiled a relationship, proposed a bad idea, or looked stupid. So, after gaining the courage to say what I really think, I retreat to a safer conversation where conflict is less likely.
I have an idea but you shouldn’t waste too much time considering it.
I don’t understand but my question is silly and the answer is probably obvious.
I think you should change your behavior but it’s not worth your time to even consider my well-meaning observation.
I want to sell my product for $200 but maybe it’s not worth that much.
It’s placing your ideas, questions, opinions, prices, and potentially even food choices into question. “Was that stupid to say?”
In fact, you may be so confident that it was stupid and you’re so confident that you know the negative response your statement deserves, that you try to cushion the blow by answering for the other person.
You try to backtrack before the awkward moment, hurt feelings or conflict is possible.
Don’t Answer Yourself: Let People Answer For Themselves
I used to think that adding in the follow-up comments was polite. I was giving the person space and not being too pushy. Now I realize that it’s not polite.
It’s just another way of interrupting them, similar to if I continued pushing my idea without giving them an opportunity to speak.
It’s cutting them off from giving a genuine response to your statement. It’s me trying to answer for them.
Allow the other person answer for himself or herself.
You can’t play tennis by yourself and you can’t have a genuine conversation by trying to answer for the other person.
What happens when you pose the question, statement, or request and then shut up?
You Get A Genuine Response
Sometimes the response is what you expected, but often it’s totally different.
I was surprised to discover that my expectation of a negative responses was almost always unfounded. My ideas were good, or at least helped spark better ideas. My questions were intelligent. My friends thanked me for trying to help them change their behavior. Customers agreed that my prices were fair. Italian food wasn’t a bad option after all.
You can state your ideas, questions, opinions, or requests without reflexively pulling back. Conversations progress faster, everyone feels more confident in the decisions being made and more ideas, opinions, and requests are shared without fear of judgment.
If someone has a problem with what I say, I trust that they’ll tell me when they respond. When I serve a tennis ball I expect the other person to hit it back.
Bite your tongue if you need to. Remind yourself to say what you want to say and then shut up before going into the backtracking and disclaimers.
If someone does respond negatively, you’ve just heard their genuine response. You don’t need to prime them with a negative response wiffle-ball placed on a T-ball stand.
I don’t know where I got this reflex, but it has outlived it’s welcome. It doesn’t help me and it doesn’t help the people I speak with.
I’m carefully watching my conversations in order to stop myself before I flinch after making an assertive statement. I’m biting my tongue and letting my assertion hover in the air.
Analyze your own conversations and look for retreating statements that follow confident assertions. You may begin to hear them everywhere, coming out of your mouth and the mouths of others, dominating your conversations to the point where you almost want to vomit.