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Not too long ago, a co-worker asked to meet me about something that sounded very important.

“I need some help and thought you’d be the right person to talk to.”

And because that was incredibly flattering, I agreed to the meeting without much thought. But within the first few minutes of our conversation, I found out that there was no agenda and this was nothing more than a casual chat.

This made me want to rip my hair out for two reasons. For starters, I was under the impression that my co-worker had some specific questions for me. And even worse, the calendar invite was set for an entire hour—which made me feel as if this wasn’t just a waste of my time, but a colossal one.

But because I hate confrontation, I bit my tongue in the moment and sat there accomplishing nothing for an hour. But that night over dinner, as I vented to my wife, she reminded me of one of the best communication lessons we learned way back when we started dating.

You can speak up when you’re frustrated or annoyed without creating conflict by simply avoiding “you” statements.

For example, let’s say someone finished off your favorite snack without alerting you. You’d want to avoid saying, “Rich, you horrible monster, you know I wanted to eat that peanut butter!” And instead, say it this way: “Rich, I felt hurt and betrayed when I saw that there was no more peanut butter left.”

How does this relate back to work—after all, this person hadn’t stolen my peanut butter. Well, if a meeting’s actually a bad use of your time, it’s perfectly OK to say that. But when you do, don’t assign blame. In fact, if I could have a do-over on that meeting, I might’ve said something like this:

“I’m flattered that you want to [pick my brain/work together/meet weekly], but I think we should re-group and think about what we both want to accomplish during this time before we proceed.”

You can put your own spin on this statement, of course. But when you do, try to avoid pointing fingers or saying anything that starts with the phrase “You did this.” Note that by using “We” I put us both in the same boat. (Also note that I didn’t say, “I’m too busy for this” because that immediately puts the other person on the defensive, forcing them to respond with, “I’m also very important and busy and how dare you imply otherwise!”)

By avoiding accusations, you’ll be able to make your point without making enemies. It’s really that simple.

Updated 6/19/2020