I don’t  like statistics, and more than that, I feel clueless the majority of the time I’m studying it because I don’t do well with calculating the standard deviation of anything and I’ve got a mental block on the difference between independent and dependent variables.  Yet, here I am taking an advanced research/statistics class to get through graduate school, and so in order to keep from cracking up over T-tests and interpreting multiple regression, I’ve worked out a few shortcuts for survival.

For example, a way to remember the difference between an independent and dependent variable is to think IF, followed by THEN. In statistics this sounds like, “If the manager’s behavior is intimidating, then the employee may be ineffective in his job because he’ll be afraid to ask questions.” Independent variable: manager’s intimidating behavior. Dependent variable:  employee’s performance.

And what, you might ask, does this have to do with anything?

It has a great deal to do with thinking before we say something we may regret.

I was working in Atlanta last week and had someone in my class ask for techniques on how to stop and think before saying something regrettable. This is when it occurred to me statistics might actually be useful for communicators. The shortcut for variables could be highly effective in curing or slowing down the old foot-in-mouth syndrome.

And here’s how:

If we made a point of always saying the IF/THEN mantra before we opened our mouths, especially when we were angry or upset, it could save a great deal of frustration and minimize the number of apologies we had to offer. As an example, if you’ve gotten fed up with the new employee who seems to be coming to you for everything and you’re about ready to tell him to quit asking you and go figure it out for himself, but you think: IF I tell him what I think he’ll get offended, possibly go tell my supervisor I’m not a team player, THEN I’ll have to go apologize and prove how helpful I can be and that will really waste my time. I think I’ll just keep quiet.

It’s tough to un-send an irate email or apologize enough to undo a comment that causes grief or anger. Yet taking a few seconds to remind ourselves of the consequences of speaking out can work miracles and give us time to think instead of reacting.

Regardless of circumstances, we are always partially responsible for the misunderstanding or situation, and deciding we won’t let others trigger our emotional responses puts us in a powerful place. Of course there are many ways to keep from reacting. Maybe we just need to ask ourselves why we’re upset. Could it be because we’re tired, haven’t had a chance to eat, or is there just one person who knows how to push our buttons?

World class communicators typically will agree on one thing, how we make someone feel is often more important than what we are saying, what solution we are offering or advice we are giving. When we can get our egos out of the way (meaning  use the IF/THEN model and keep quiet) and focus on how to communicate a message that helps the other person save face, feel pride or  impact his/her self esteem in a positive way, then we are guaranteed a positive outcome.

I’ll be done with this !&@#% statistics class in a few weeks, but paying attention to my emotional triggers and speaking to people in a way that makes them feel empowered is a lifetime of work and focus.  Here’s hoping my shortcut for variables can be useful to you no matter who you’re speaking with. After all IF you say something kind or positive THEN it’s a sure bet you’ll stand a much greater chance of reaching the person and getting the results you’re looking for.


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