How To Communicate With People In Distress

Posted on July 1, 2017 by Nate Regier / 1 comments
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Communication and conflict skills continue to top the list of the most desired qualities companies are looking for in their leaders. As A.I. takes over data crunching, people skills will only become more valuable.

Communicating with people who are in distress is no fun. It can seem like a waste of energy and time. They are defensive, can’t think clearly, and don’t want to hear your side of the story. At best, you accomplish nothing. At worst, you also get sucked into the distress and end up saying or doing something that makes things worse.

Mismanaged conflict is a drain on everyone’s time and energy. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. With the right strategies, you can adapt your communication to redirect energy in a positive direction. It starts with understanding seven critical truths distress and miscommunication.    

Seven Critical Truths About Miscommunication and Distress

  1. Distress is usually a symptom of an unmet positive need. Deciphering and addressing this need removes the necessity for the distress. Battling the symptoms is a losing fight. Enlightened leaders see the forest for the trees and don’t get sucked into the power struggle.
  2. Distress thrives on myths about emotions. No one can make anyone else feel good or bad. So don’t fall for invitations to take on responsibility for someone else’s emotional baggage. Enlightened leaders maintain 100% responsibility for their emotional world, and let others do the same.
  3. Distress is emotional. That’s OK, as long as you deal with the real emotions and don’t get tricked by the cover-up emotions. Self-aware leaders are in tune with their authentic emotions and create a safe space for others to express their authentic emotions. 
  4. In distress, process trumps content. It’s rarely about what’s being said, almost always about how it’s being said. Avoid getting seduced into the content, and you’re halfway there. Great leaders know the difference and can read between the lines.
  5. You didn’t cause their distress, even if you did something wrong: distress is caused by how we interpret and react to what happens, not the event itself. Compassionate leaders can separate the person from the behavior.
  6. You are responsible for your behavior and what you do next. No matter what happened before, you are 100% responsible for your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors going forward. No more, no less. Effective leaders help everyone be accountable to each other for their behaviors.
  7. Personality matters more than you think: Did you know that personality is one of the strongest drivers of how a person will behave in distress? There are six distinct patterns of miscommunication, each correlated with a personality type. Humans have all six in them, but one or two are mostly responsible for consistent distress behaviors.

How To Communicate With People In Distress

Here are six articles, each addressing one common pattern of miscommunication and distress. With which one do you struggle the most? Which is your most common pattern? Use these articles to improve your leadership communication skills and be the leader who transforms negative behaviors into positive contributions.

Over controlling and critical

Crusades and pushes beliefs

Manipulates and creates negative drama

Blames others and accepts no responsibility

Withdraws and doesn’t respond

Makes silly mistakes and loses confidence

This series is based on our work using the Process Communication Model, a research-tested behavioral framework for understanding and communicating with different personality types, in and out of distress.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, 2024

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Posted on February 23, 2024

This whole list of tips is an amazing gift to all of us. Easy read, fun too and so, oh so, ever so practical. Thank you Doctor Nate.

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Nate Regier
Posted on February 23, 2024

Thank you so much, Jerome. I’m glad you are finding it useful.

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