The Power of “Huh” and “Hmm”
Often, in a conflict management situation, particularly when someone is attempting to redirect or persuade another through verbalization, words don’t easily come to mind. There is a lot to take in while trying to formulate just the right thing to say, so the verbal redirection or persuasive argument has its desired effect. It’s at times such as this that saying and doing the unexpected, thus catching the other person off-guard, can be very helpful.
Saying and doing the unexpected has several advantages. First, it causes the other person to pause and make sure that what was heard is accurate. The pause, even if for a second, breaks tension and causes an individual to reconsider what is taking place. Second, saying or doing the unexpected creates doubt in the mind of another concerning what is normal, in essence instantly establishing a new norm which causes hesitation and the need to reorient, which allows you to stay one step ahead and establish a position of advantage or control. Third, when the pause or hesitation takes place, it provides you with an assessment opportunity to determine if the other person is reasonable or not. Remember, you cannot reason individuals out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into. If the other person doesn’t respond in a reasonably predictable fashion, pausing or hesitating, you will need to switch gears and move to another tactic.
All this being said, what are some unexpected things we can say or do? One is understanding the power in two small and seldom used words in the beginning stages of a conflict. Those words are “huh” and “hmm”. When coupled with a quizzical tone of voice and a facial expression, which in and of itself conveys interest, there is great potential to catch the other person off-guard and move the confrontation in a positive direction. Saying “huh” or “hmm” in a confrontation is unexpected, and since words and actions must match, a quizzical facial expression should be employed and will be equally unexpected. When individuals become aggressive, they expect an equal or greater response or reaction; the unexpected is a preplanned and practiced response instead of a “tit for tat” reaction. In addition to the “huh” or “hmm”, use follow-up words which match what you are trying to convey. For example, “Huh, that’s interesting, tell me more” or “Hmm, I didn’t know that, let me see how I can help”. “Huh” and “hmm” should be seen as a means of opening gateways to further communication.
Unfortunately, all too often our verbalizations close doors, for instance statements such as, “I understand”, when the other person is convinced you don’t understand, or “You must feel frustrated”, which is the same as saying “I understand”, since you have assumed how the other person feels instead of asking “Are you feeling frustrated?” There are also common phrases such as “calm down” or “settle down” which close us off from others, but are used on a regular basis. All of these verbalizations are expected by others, learn to say or do the unexpected. Start with a quizzical “huh” and “hmm” and watch the doors of opportunity to resolve a situation through redirection and persuasion fly open. There is power in those words.