How To Manage Difficult Conversations At Work

In many cases difficult conversations rarely get a chance to happen. Instead, we spend days, weeks, even years telling ourselves (and perhaps our unfortunate partners at home), stories about how rude, inappropriate, unhelpful and/or arrogant some people are. We rarely have the conversation with the person or people we are having difficulty with. We bring our own preconceptions to the events and don’t even get close to finding a viable solution. So… does the challenge get resolved? No… like a coffee maker, our stories keep perking – getting stronger and more bitter as time goes by.

Difficult Conversations Perk

Presto© Coffee Perk

Note for clarification: Firing someone isn’t a difficult conversation. Having a difficult conversation often starts uncomfortable but usually leads to quickly working with someone to help you and them understand a disruptive situation and correct it.

Lets face it – in a heated moment we all tell ourselves stories. What matters is how long we allow ourselves to be ‘stuck’ telling our stories. Your stories likely sound something like:

¤  She did ABC because she just knew I wanted XYZ.
¤  It’s like he thinks none of us know what we are doing.
¤  He always interrupts us because he doesn’t value our ideas.

If we do nothing we don’t find solutions. Instead we tell stories that build walls and increase stress while also degrading the quality creativity and productivity of our work environments. And if we keep it up, we may even put our employment status at risk.

Of course, while these negative stories go on and on, the person who is challenging us often knows nothing of our internal struggle. Until we talk to the person who is challenging us, we stay frustrated but we do not know their true motivation and beliefs – we only know our (biased), guess of Why the problem happened.

How To Quit Telling Yourself Difficult Stories And Start Having Difficult Conversations

  1. Most importantly, reclaim space and authority to build community. Take back your power to do something good… even though it may be difficult. I bet, 9 times out of 10 it will get better… and it is certainly better than you telling yourself difficult stories for months or years on end.
  2. Realize when you are telling difficult stories.
  3. Know that our subconscious often adds fuel to the fire; what we feel we make real. We may even subconsciously do or say things that promote a behavour. If you think your challenger will be:

¤  Creative – he will be creative “Wow Bruce, that is a great fresh approach.”
¤  Arrogant – she will be arrogant. “Yvette is such a know-it-all.”
¤  Rude – you will see examples of rudeness.
¤  Dismissive – you will feel you are being disrespected and dismissed.

  1. Show emotion but don’t be emotional. Tap into your empathy and that of the other person / people, “I’m feeling uncomfortable about something that happened yesterday but I feel it’s important we discuss it so I understand it better. Do you have some time now?”
  2. Explore WHAT someone did – not WHY. Stories that focus on Why is a path that often leads to blame (and the Dark Side for Star Wars fans). And if we haven’t spoken with anyone, our stories about WHY are also speculation which is dangerous and not helpful. Consider, they may not have even noticed they did XYZ.
  3. Let’s consider a situation at work when someone did something inappropriate / against policy. If someone does something outside of work boundaries then it needs to be addressed – not because someone is rude, disrespectful or mean… but because WHAT they did is inappropriate. Inappropriate behaviour must change in order to support a trusting, creative, collaborative environment. And while the conversation may be uncomfortable… even difficult conversation… in the majority of time it doesn’t need to get heated… in my experience.
  4. On rare occasions – do nothing. If it happens once, then sure – you may choose to let it slide… but if it is behavior that repeats, it should be discussed ASAP for the harmony of the team.

If you don’t manage difficult conversations, what are your options?

¤  Do nothing and keep being stressed
¤  Wait until you have had enough, lose your temper and yell at them.
¤  Continue to complain to all your coworkers and your partner

They don’t sound like great options. I recommend having a calm conversation where you share your observations and how those actions make you feel. I’d say something like, “When we are in meetings I feel you often interrupt me when I’m speaking. It makes me feel like you don’t value what I have to say. I wanted check in with you and see if you noticed and what might be happening.” This should start a helpful, respectful, calm conversation.

In conflict situations, you decide how you are going to respond when something doesn’t go your way. Be conscious to Feed Positive Energy – not the negative energy. Elevate the conversation. As we see Michelle Obama saying in this Youtube video, “When they go low, we go high.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mu_hCThhzWU

Before difficult situations even happen, choose how you want to act. Who do you want to be in a difficult relationship? Do you want to be the person who shuts down, the person who screams or the person who moves on? OR, do you want to be the manager that deals with the situation?

Instead of generating a negative conversation, elevate the conversation – add positive energy to the conversation and your feedback. Take control of how you act – how you feel – what you own. Ask yourself:

¤  When I think someone is Rude, How do I act?
¤  When I think someone is Selfish, How do I act?
¤  When I think someone is Unsupportive, How do I act?
¤  When I think someone is Aggressive, How do I act?
¤  When I think someone is Taking More Than Their Share, How do I act?

Conclusion

More hate doesn’t beat someone else’s hate; more rudeness doesn’t beat someone else’s rudeness – they just breed more hate, rudeness and frustration.  The only thing that can beat negativity is respect and talking about it.  It doesn’t always fix the problem, but if you start showing respect and listening to the person who shows you hate, rudeness or frustration,  eventually everyone will see them as being the A$$#!*& – not you. Your reputation will improve. Theirs… not so much.

It is amazing what happens when you build trust / build respect between parties. With a base of trust two people could discuss and try a proposed solution quickly vs. discuss and debate it for hours or days. The beauty is that if you try you would both be able to quickly evaluate what worked / didn’t work and perhaps how to improve.  

If we keep telling ourselves difficult stories we will never find a mutually beneficial / satisfactory solution and office productivity and morale will go down as our stress levels go up. Having difficult conversations is far better better.

Happy communicating… mentoring… and training.

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Bruce Mayhew Consulting is an Executive Coach who facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Generational Differences, Time Management, Leadership and Mindfulness.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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