THE ZALT BUBBLE
OK, ‘zealotising’ is not a real word (yet!) but I can’t resist words starting with Z! And you already know what it is. When someone is being extreme, like a zealot, with their language and using extreme and finite phrases. The impact of which is that those on the receiving end generally are forced to flee in defence or zealotise right back at them. See Trump v HC Result – the conflict intensifies. Zealotising is bad for conflict and makes my job difficult.
A few weeks ago I was mediating between two cousins who had grown a multimillion dollar business together. During the discussion one said to the other “you just can’t handle change”. Boom. See the zealotising in that comment? The “all or nothing” phraseology. The other reared up to defend through attack “NO. I just don’t trust YOUR management”. Again an absolute and uncompromising statement. It was like they were holding a voodoo doll of the other and using their language to spear metal rods through the body.
Zealotsing is bad for resolving conflict
The problem is that the absolute statement is generally not exactly what the person meant. In my example the business partners had been through tremendous change together – so that statement “you just can’t handle change” was simply not accurate. It is this type of comment that the recipient remembers well after the conversation is finished.
The other reason extreme statements intensify conflict is that they often challenge an individual’s identity or the foundations of a relationship. “I don’t trust your management” gets interpreted as challenging my identity as a “good manager” or being an “honest person”. That damages the relationship. Firstly they probably have a sense of self perception that they are a good manager and that they are honest. Secondly, they each wonder how long have the other has thought this and yet never said anything. It’s almost a betrayal. Often this is accompanied by thoughts like “I wonder who else thinks this way about me”.
What to do?
First you have to notice it. This be hard as it happens quickly and may be just one line. After that, there are a range of things you can do that are relationship and situation dependent.
You can explore it “are you saying I can never handle change or is it just this situation?” If you catch yourself zealotising you could say “wait a minute that’s not quite what I meant, I really just think we need to talk about how this project is being managed”. In the situation above where I was mediating I challenged them both. I stopped them and we paused so I explicitly explained what ‘zealotising’ is. Then they reflected on how their zealotising (although I didn’t use that term obviously!) statements were impacting the thought process of each other and how that made conflict worse. I’m happy to report the conversation felt more real and relaxed after that even though I had to take on the role of teacher for a few minutes.
Need some help preparing for a difficult conversation that you don’t want to make worse by zealotising? Have some employees who need to have a conversation but require professional facilitation. Please feel free to get in touch with us.