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Watch your tone - Really!

So often, I hear a client report a conversation (or, at times, I witness the conversation) and what comes out sounds something like "How could you do something like that?" (please click on the links here and below to hear examples of what I'm describing)

Unfortunately, the tone sounds critical, making it unlikely that the other person heard any curiosity or openness in what could have been a question. Therefore, there is unlikely to be any sort of useful answer. A frequent clue that things are heading in this direction is the rule of thumb I heard several years ago:

If you could add "you idiot" to the end of the sentence and it would fit, it probably sounds to the person on the receiving end as though those words were said, leading to a feeling of being criticized and dismissed.

On the other hand, if there could have been a real question, based on respectful curiosity, soundling more like "Could you help me understand, why did you do that..." there is a much greater chance of a productive discussion and greater understanding.

As with so many things, it's great if we can catch ourselves and make an adjustment just before the words come out. However, even if we notice just after saying something or even later on, realizing what we have done and trying again with more curiosity (and a more curious tone) can help quite a bit.