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FemLovin Learns the Tools to Manage Competitive Behavior

Claire Tak
Nov 6, 2020

Sometimes, the hardest part of managing conflict is mustering the willingness to address it and then finding the right language. 

Fonta Hadley, founder of Eloquence Studio, which helps executives improve self-awareness and communication skills, said she most often gets questions from women about how to manage combative or competitive behavior. Fonta was a powerful guest speaker at FemLovin’s most recent event, which focused on how to better manage competitive behavior using simple frameworks.

At Eloquence, Fonta builds communication skills through:

  • Body language: eye contact, posture, stance & gesture
  • Voice: vocal authority, inflection, and audibility
  • Speech: enunciation, pace, and pause 
  • Messaging: succinct messaging, and storytelling
  • Listening: listening past inaccuracy, emoting, and acknowledgment skills

Living a fuller life

Fonta spoke candidly about herself and why she started Eloquence. 

“I watched someone die and it was my wake-up call. At the time, I had taken a more passive role in my life but watching someone go from completely healthy to dead in seven months completely changed me. It gave me clarity and a commitment to fully engage with my life.”

Compartmentalization and what it means

She also talked about many a-ha moments from her time volunteering at San Quentin State Prison where she teaches positive self-representation skills to inmates. Her experience inside prison walls exposed a very raw form of competitive behavior and how people exert power over one another. 

She explained, “Power and control are all about winning. That’s why so many leadership models are built around strength measurements. Winning is the worst possible measurement when it comes to people and relationships. The objective of winning doesn’t hold people accountable for their behavior.”

Intention vs. Impact and how it relates to compartmentalization

She also elaborated on intention vs. impact works, saying, “Intention is when you only take responsibility for what’s in this [metaphorical] box. You don’t take responsibility for anything outside of that box. You self-select and what goes in there is your only point of view.”

She went on, “This is how people can do such heinous things. They only take responsibility for their intention and not the impact. [When an inmate says,] ‘Well I didn’t mean to kill him. He drew his gun before me.’ That’s compartmentalization.”

How to use the right language to deal with combative behavior 

Oftentimes, when we face a combative coworker or difficult people in our lives or in the workplace, we aren’t sure how to deal with it effectively or objectively. The hardest part is just knowing how to say it— the script.

Fonta highlighted ways to talk to others and what language to use when addressing competitive behavior.

Swap out the words ‘feeling’ for ‘reading’ 

Avoid using the word “feelings” in a combative situation because it sets yourself up for the other person to shut it down as being too subjective. They could easily respond with, “Well I’m sorry you feel that way. I can’t help the way you feel.” 

Instead, you may consider:

  • “The way you’re acting is reading as if you’re… frustrated, upset, angry.”
  • This is how you’re reading, but I don’t think you meant it that way.” 

She explained this in detail through an example scenario and script, saying, “I see what you were trying to say. I can see the merit of your point but the way you phrased it—the tone of your voice is reading like you’re upset.” 

Instead of saying “feels like,” you can say, “it’s reading as if you’re impatient or frustrated.” 

This helps separate intention from impact. Start with the intention (I know you want to accomplish X), and then come back to the behavior (… but you’re rolling your eyes or your arms are crossed). After acknowledging this, offer a way to help the situation.

Acknowledge the importance of solidarity and goals: ‘We’re on the same team.’

Fonta says to remind people that you’re on their side and to call out bad behavior as quickly as possible. She said to call this out with the following type of language:

  • “We’re acting like opposites, we’re on the same side. Let’s talk this out.”
  • “We can disagree, but what’s really going on? Why are you talking to me like that? It’s not reading well.”
  • “We are acting as if we are opposite one another and I don’t want that.”

She ended by encouraging respectful behavior and holding others accountable. This helps promote trust and safety with the people you work with. 

“Competitive behavior is all about winning but you always have a choice in how you behave. How you treat people is how you will be remembered. Your behavior leaves a legacy. Call out a person’s intention and its impact. It may help smooth out the situation and also teach them a little bit about emotional responsibility.” 

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