The Benefit of Not Talking in Bulldoze Mode

Sometimes I talk in bulldoze mode. It’s not something I want to do. It’s something I can do without thinking. It’s something I want to change.

What is bulldoze mode? It’s a way of trying to force your opinion through. You get in a mode of talking where you make it clear to people that if they contradict you or even try to nuance what you are saying, they are going to have a fight on their hands. You may start interrupting. You may speak more loudly. You may just say something in a way that warns people against any challenge.

Bulldoze mode is connected with anxiety. You may feel anxiety that something you feel is important won’t be heard. You may feel like you are no longer safe to share your opinion or that you are not respected. When anxiety goes up, people can either become completely silent, withdraw, talk to someone else, try to fix it, act helpless, or seek to bulldoze an opinion through.

The advantage of going into bulldoze mode is that it does release some anxiety. When you prepare yourself to fight, you feel like you are doing something productive. There is a payback of some sort, or no one would do it.

The problem is that people may not feel safe talking to you. They may not want to be with you or work with you. They may feel more comfortable talking behind your back.

In addition, it doesn’t actually help people hear your point of view. Telling people more loudly and more often is not a good method of getting people to adopt your opinion.

You have to take time with people. Bringing people together is a slow process. Building understanding just takes the time it takes. As Stephen Covey put it so well: with people, fast is slow and slow is fast. In other words, you can gain an efficiency in working with materials by going faster like building machines that cut or assemble things in a factory. With people, the efficiency often occurs in slowing things down and taking time to work through things. When we actually try people along faster, then we can inadvertently make things less efficient.

So, what do we do? How do we stop going into bulldozing mode? First, we become aware of it. We need a sense that this takes place. Once we know we go into this mode, it is easier to recognize when we are doing it.

Second, we can start to observe when we do it in conversation. When we notice that we have done it, we can say to the person, “I just went into bulldoze mode. That means I was trying to force my opinion through. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to do that. Can we start that topic over?”

Third, we can help others understand when we are feeling bulldozed. We can say to them, “I don’t think this was your intention, but I felt like I wasn’t free to respond because of the way you said that. Can we talk about that?” You talk about how the conversation is going and not just the topic.

The benefit of learning to do this is simple. We can have better communication and build better relationships.

I owe what I wrote here in large part to an excellent book called Crucial Conversations. I would highly recommend it to anyone. It develops these concepts in much more detail. I have written a summary of this book here. You can also subscribe to this blog on the right side (laptop) or below (mobile device) to find more discussions like this one.. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I hope to find you again here soon.


3 Replies to “The Benefit of Not Talking in Bulldoze Mode”

  1. Good to see this piece, Wes. I have the 2nd ed (2012) of Crucial Conversations. I think it was recommended to me by Dr. Paul Patton, an old friend, who taught communication classes at Spring Arbor. I see I made notes in some of the cpts. Didn’t see the clever Bulldozer idea, though.

    Two other reliable classroom-use bks he used with his students and recommended, and which I have, are: Communication Between Cultures, by Samavor & Porter, and A First Look at Communication Theory, by Em Griffin. And decades ago I found Getting to Yes quite helpful while thinking through some issues for my book on communication: The Gospel and the New Spirituality (Thomas Nelson, 1996), in which what I called “the submarine model” became kind popular. : )

  2. Hi Charles, thanks for commenting here. The bulldozer idea was not in the book, as far as I can remember. The concept of trying to force your opinion was, though. I think that metaphor came from my dear friend Brian Carpenter.

    Thanks for the other book suggestions.

  3. That is good and timely insight Wes, Thank you. I think it goes along with the tendency most of us have when we’re not really listening to what the other person is saying because we are already trying to assemble our next reply. As you said good communication takes time……………… in comparison to our modern world which expects everything instantaneously so we can move on to the next thing.

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