Ask First, Shoot Later: pt2

In the previous post, I suggested that everyone should reserve their judgment on another and I made some points showing why I thought that was important. In this post, I want to share some simple ways to help you in this matter. Like teaching a child how to ride a bike instead of just telling him to, giving you some tools is important. Everyone, from children to leaders, need tools to learn a skill. These are not comprehensive, but they will help you started, since everyone can learn how to reserve judgment through applying these tips.

Everyone, from children to leaders, need tools to learn a skill.

1. Consider your words

Thinking about how you’re going to say something is just as important as thinking about what you’re going to say. We have a tendency to allow our assumptions to enter into our statements and questions, twisting their meaning through our tones of voice and choice of words. Look to be neutral in your questions. For example, you can say “You’re always thinking everyone is condescending to you. Do you know that its actually in your head and not other people’s fault?” If you do, you’re conveying that you think the other person is stupid for feeling looked down upon. That’s not going to get you anywhere. Instead, say, “You mentioned that you feel like I was condescending to you. Can you help me understand why you feel like that?” This is a more neutral question, with a less accusatory tone. Additionally, be conscious of your word order. “I’m sorry for doing that, but its not entirely my fault” is entirely different from “Its not entirely my fault, but I am sorry for doing that.” People only really hear everything after the “but.” Thus, the later comes off as a sincere apology, as opposed to the former. Consider your words.

 2. Listen, don’t lecture

Many of us want to control the situation or to defend ourselves when accused. We feel like we’re correct and wonder why the other person can’t come around to see the “light!” My advice, from what I’m currently learning, is to take a breath and shut up. Let the other person speak and share their side of the story, as well as their feelings about the matter. Additionally, don’t lecture through non-verbal communication. This means no rolling of the eyes, no glazed eyes and no fidgeting. Listening means you look them in the eyes, you nod to let them know you’re paying attention and most importantly…you listen! If needed, repeat in your head what they’re saying to you while they’re talking.

 3. Be Evidence Driven

Make sure you know what the evidence is: what has the other person done, what have they said, what was the situation, etc. While it’s really easy to assume something about the other person based on feelings or past experience, this will help clear up the “fog of war” in your heads. If needed, come up with a list of the fact that you know are true. Try not to put down motivation, assumptions and etc. Having the facts forces you and the other party to lay down the emotional firearms, understand what the main issue is and get down to resolving the issue faster.

4. Fight to win the relationship, not the battle

In whatever situation you are in, remember that you have a relationship of some sort with that person. Your objective then should not be to destroy the other person with your barrage of witty comebacks and rock-solid logic. You should be looking to come to a mutual understanding, which when achieved, can lead to a quicker resolution. If you’re upset that the other person is holding you back because they never send you the needed reports on time, cutting them down won’t help. Finding out that they’ve had a rough month emotionally from going through a divorce, losing the kids and etc, will help. At that point, you can both work together to resolve the issue. Here are some phrases that I’ve found helpful in the past.

  • “In order for me to better understand you, let me repeat back to you what I think I heard you say. Please correct anything that I misunderstood. (…)”
  • “ You said/did this in the past. Can you help me understand why?”
  • “When you did such and such, that really hurt me and here’s why. (be sure to include what your purpose is as well. Are you looking for an apology? A change in behavior later on? Etc)”


When we take the time to think through our words and our actions, we increase the likelihood of our relationship surviving. While not everyone will respond in kind or be reasonable, we are not responsible for their actions or reaction. You are responsible for your own. As a leader, learn to ask first before shooting, and you will gain the hearts and minds of those you are leading.


One thought on “Ask First, Shoot Later: pt2

  1. Tim K Su says:

    Good points, Dennis!

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