The Elephant In The Room: 3 Steps As You Prepare For A Difficult Conversation

You and I have something in common – I don’t like having difficult conversations either.

Unfortunately, avoiding or ignoring the elephant in the room doesn’t do anyone any good – including for the elephant. At work or at home, if there is a bossy or aggressive or undependable or disengaged person around I can almost guarantee:

  • The elephant won’t go away if we ignore it
  • The behaviour of the elephant usually gets worse

When there is an elephant in the room it’s demotivating to everyone; they effect us deeply. They zap our energy. Nobody wants to be around people who are difficult and/or who let the people around them down. At work and at home we are less loyal and less willing to go the extra mile for difficult people. And worse yet – the constant stress of dealing with an elephant in the room is not good for our mental or physical health – a challenge for us personally, professionally and a great expense for any employer.

But do our problems (and the company problems), end there? Nope!

If the elephant in the room isn’t dealt with, other people may feel it’s OK to be their own unique version of an elephant. Yup, other people can begin behaving badly as well… because it’s tolerated. At work, new employees and new leaders who see this behavior being tolerated might learn terrible leadership and collaboration skills that can haunt them their whole career. If we do nothing we may be training new leaders and co-workers to be loud, bossy, unsupportive and dictatorial; and lets not do that – Millennials and Get Z have a bad enough reputation as it is.

No matter if you are at work or home, if you want to learn how to help an elephant change, here are a few steps.

Step 1
Accept the elephants’ reality is based on their perspective and they may not be evil. Begin with kindness and give them the benefit of the doubt; they may not realize the impact they are having. Or, they may (mistakenly), see their toxic nature as a good thing – as an effective, productive way to quickly getting things done.

Step 2
Help your elephant be self-aware and see other people’s perspective. Help your elephant see the negative impact they are having on other people. Help your elephant see that other peoples perspectives are as valid as their own.Perspectivist : Perspectivism

If at work, help your elephant in the room see the negative impact on the project, creativity and morale including the longer-term costs to their career, employee loyalty and company success.

Step 3
The elephant must make a decision to work toward change… or to not change and accept the impact of their decision.

If they decide to work toward change you both must recognize change doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a struggle. If the elephant is willing to work with you, help them tap into their empathy. One way to do this is to demonstrate your empathy, compassion and curiosity.

Also, come to an agreement early on that you will manage each other’s triggers and frustration. Agree you will both stay open, present, patient, listen and trust each other to be honest. Agree that getting angry will not help.

Once you have done steps 1 – 3, share your story. What do you see? How do you feel? What are the short-term and long-term consequences of their actions / behaviour?

Don’t be judgmental and don’t attack; be supportive. If you attack them they will stop listening and either shut down or attack back… or both (almost all of us react this way when attacked). Ask them to share their story – their point of view. Be open to listening. Doing this will help both of you stay present, open and engaged.

This sounds easy but it is not. Change will often include difficult conversations.

Through your story, share how their actions affect you / others. For example:

“Bobby, I see you are trying. I also see that you are falling behind schedule and this is impacting the whole team, putting your success, their success and the project success at risk. I’ve seen you do better Bobby, so I’m worried. I notice that you often come to work late and leave early without taking work you can do off-site. Can you tell me what is going on because I want to work with you to come up with a plan to get XYZ done? I don’t want to have to remove you from the project.”

When you share your story / your perspective, you help the elephant see clearly. And when you listen you will also learn why the elephant in the room is behaving the way they are.

They key things to remember are to be honest; don’t be manipulative. They have to feel you want to get to a good outcome – not create more tension. Listen to their story. If you listen to them they will be more open to listening to you.

Happy communicating, mentoring and working with people from all generations.

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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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Beliefs & Change Management

About a month ago I wrote about beliefs. I frequently discuss beliefs – most often in the Difficult Conversation training I do – but I think a discussion is relevant in this public forum because how beliefs impact our minute-by-minute experiences and behavior. I also think the discussion is relevant because the current international political climate provides many a unique ‘global’ examples of how beliefs impact change as well as strengthen and weaken bonds.

At a basic level our beliefs define us and our behaviour. As I said in my earlier post, Beliefs are the foundation for what we believe about ourselves and the world around us… they may also represent what we WANT to believe about ourselves and the world around us.”Beliefs and Change Management

So as a discussion point, let me begin by asking you… “What motivates you to change your beliefs?” I’m sure you’ll agree that it takes a lot to change your beliefs… especially deeply held beliefs. Changing a belief is rarely easy; it usually takes time and patience – even if someone is open to listening / learning. But imagine trying to change someone’s belief who has a vested interest in keeping his or her belief intact. For example:

  • Imagine I believe I deserve a promotion (and then don’t get it).
  • Imagine I believe the way we’ve always done it is how we should do it moving forward.
  • Imagine I believe a politician will bring my job back – even though automation has been shrinking the global workforce for years.
  • Imagine my whole life I’ve believed I hate all green vegetables, (even though I’ve only ever tasted spinach… once… 20 years ago).

Trying to force people (or countries), to change their beliefs doesn’t work. Personally, I hold on steadfast if I feel pressured – I bet you act similarly. Or, if we are forced to change our belief – we may do it only to get our bosses off our back or to fit in (peer pressure), and we go back to our original belief as soon as we can. Pressuring others to change his or her beliefs just doesn’t work.

But change is inevitable and change is accelerating. This means we have to learn safe ways to challenge each others beliefs. Change management requires we help people make informed decisions and help each other evolve to take advantage of new opportunities… and not hold onto beliefs that will hurt us in the short or long-term.

Sure – believing you hate green vegetables isn’t going to do you much harm (I hope you are eating other vegetables). But holding onto the belief that your product / service shouldn’t evolve may have long-term negative consequences.

When we question our beliefs and they remain intact then that is great… in fact, we might find a deeper understanding of our beliefs. But, we must be open to the exploration… and to the reality that our beliefs may change… and that either way we will be better because we’ve evolved.

How do we begin the process of exploring our beliefs? Or, how do we introduce the idea to our team? My recommendation is as follows:

  • Step 1. Set ground rules for engaging – set a space of mutual respect
  • Step 2. Everyone must be open to listen, learn and share, but never try to force change.
  • Step 3. Agree to set aside negative judgment or biases.
  • Step 4. Everyone must accept science, data and proven theories – we cannot accept lies or untruths.
  • Step 5. Faith is OK. However, if you want others to respect that you have ‘faith’ – you must respect other people’s ‘faith’ equally.

I strongly agree with a famous quote from Senator Daniel Patrick “Pat” Moynihan, (March 16, 1927 – March 26, 2003), “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” I believe that we can choose to believe in something – have faith in something that is unproven… but our belief can not dispute what is scientifically proven or state your unproven belief as fact (or Alternative Facts).

Since 2017 may go down as a year of ‘Alternative Facts’ I think Senator Moynihan’s words are critically important. Basically, I believe what Senator Moynihan means is if I’m going to say I hate all green vegetables, I had better have tried all of them… or at least most of them. I can’t dismiss all green vegetables if I have only had one experience.

If you are a leader, consider the people around you. When you help them understand their beliefs and enter into respectful dialogue about those beliefs (not a threatened argument), you can trust them to make good decisions in the context of change management.

All of this assumes that the beliefs in question aren’t morally or legally problematic or go against corporate values, mission or vision. For example: If my belief is that I should be able to drive 120kms in a school zone… then I’m going to have to change… no compromise. And if my belief goes against society norms or law, I will accept the consequences of standing up for my beliefs.

In the end, I cannot correct your beliefs and I cannot be responsible for your beliefs or actions… only you can.

As long as we are both speaking truth and can back up our position with reliable data, we have to accept each others statements and beliefs. I can engage you – challenge you – I can even express if I agree with you or not – but I can not force you to change. And, in the end perhaps you don’t change your belief – but after an open, honest respectful dialogue we have a better understanding on how to move forward… with (hopefully), greater mutual respect. And, through the experience we may learn there are multiple ways to understand the world. Your way and my way are not mutually exclusive.

Conclusion

We owe it to ourselves to ask difficult questions and to watch, listen and learn from people we respect. And, we also need to respect proven data and think independently. In the end, you and I are the only people who can truly determine what is best for ourselves.

And yes, unfortunately there are truly hateful people – people bent on cheating others, but when we know better we do better. When we are aware of our beliefs and our core values we can act independently and make decisions with confidence. We can be sure our beliefs will guide our actions well.

Happy communicating… mentoring… and training.

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The Difference Between Belief, Faith and Trust

I believe… the differences between Belief, Faith and Trust holds great insight about how you and I act in our professional business lives and in our personal lives. This also includes how we manage difficult conversations and how we interpret information, are motivated and how we mentor others.

Unfortunately many of us treat belief, faith and trust as the same thing even though there are significant differences; this puts everyone at a disadvantage when we communicate. So, lets take a quick look at the difference between belief, faith and trust.

What Is Belief?

Everyone’s beliefs can be different. Beliefs can be something a person feels/perceives is true – even if we have to ignore proof our belief is incorrect. For example, Global Warming. Another common example is who we believe the best candidate in a political race is. In both of these examples our beliefs are largely supported by personal and perhaps even selfish reasons. So, beliefs have 2 options. They can be:

  1. Absolute and proven (we know water is made of 2 Hydrogen and 1 Oxygen molecule).
  2. A matter of personal and/or professional opinion (Union employment talks).

In addition, the more firmly convinced we become of our belief, the more confidant we may grow and the less we’ll listen to other options. Therefore, when we is closed we often don’t leave room for discussion or flexibility. The safety of the TITANIC is a good example of a belief that lead to overconfidence. Politics between countries offer us many such examples. Because beliefs are often a matter of personal experience, perspective and judgement as much as they may be of fact, they often change slowly – over time as we gather more information (knowledge) and experience.

Is Faith The Same As Trust?

Faith and trust are often confused and/or used interchangeably but they do have different meanings. What Is Faith?

  • Faith is often thought of as a spiritual concept. Faith is a devotion or loyalty where belief is important but proof may be less quantifiable. Religions are good examples of faith – or anywhere where a leap of optimism (faith), is required. Faith is something we ‘HAVE’…

What Is Trust?

  • Trust is often thought of in the context of relationships. Tangible proof is important. Being able to anticipate how another person will act is an example of trust (often because you have proof this is how they’ve acted in the past). Trust is something we ‘DO’…

    Belief supports Faith & Trust

    Belief supports Faith & Trust

Faith and Trust are supported by our beliefs… even if those beliefs are not logically supported… or even untrue. Trust / faith is broken only if a persons belief is broken… or trust / faith can be strengthened if belief deepens. Note: Trust is perhaps more fragile than faith. If trust is broken, it takes a long time to build it back.

Example 1 (Belief is supported): In business – if you and I are working on a project for the first time, do I have trust (not faith), you will be honourable and truthful? Yes, if I believe you are also focused on the organizations values and best interest – even though my only proof may be that you are employed. But one-on-one experience can change my beliefs quickly and therefore trust. The best approach for a successful project and working relationship would be to confirm objectives and values… therefore our beliefs and trust.

Example 2 (Belief is untrue): In a Ponzi scheme I believe you are truthful and you will give me a high ROI with low risk. My belief gives me trust that you will deliver results. But, in a Ponzi scheme this truth is a lie / the belief is unfounded and trust is eventually compromised.

Conclusion:

When we consider what people believe, have faith in and trust we can understand each other.

Whether we are speaking of belief, faith or trust, we will always be at our best if you and I support our conversations with an open mind and non-judegement… allowing ourselves to listen to each other and consider options based on mutually agreed objectives.

Our personal lives and our workspaces will always benefit.

Happy communicating and learning.

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Bruce Mayhew is founder and President of Bruce Mayhew Consulting a Professional Development firm that excels at quickly and easily tailoring programs to meet the unique needs of our clients and their employees. In addition to being an effective professional development trainer, Bruce is a popular conference speaker, writer and has been featured on major TV, Radio and Newspaper networks ranging from CTV to Global to The Globe & Mail.

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How To Give Constructive Feedback: A Training Summary

Giving constructive feedback is an inspiring and productive way to establish and manage expectations. Not giving constructive feedback also manages expectations but not in a supportive way.

By managing expectations you can decrease stress and improve relationships (professional and personal). And, if you’d like me to manage your expectations with a longer list of concrete benefits, they are:Manage Expectations

  • A calmer work environment
  • Higher productivity
  • Greater job satisfaction / employee engagement
  • Lower turnover
  • Happier customers / clients
  • Fewer escalations / urgent situations

Even during a difficult conversation, constructive feedback (and managing expectations), will help you create a more collaborative atmosphere.

Constructive Feedback TIPS

Here are a few of the constructive feedback tips I share during my Difficult Conversations Training courses:

  1. Be respectful and compassionate.
  2. Express what didn’t go as expected, however don’t dwell on the negative
  3. See difficult conversations as learning opportunities for you and them
  4. Listen
  5. Give feedback sooner rather than later. If you let unacceptable behaviour slide… it sets an expectation that their behaviour is acceptable. If a co-worker misses a deadline and you don’t have a discussion about it, don’t be surprised when they miss another deadline, because they will.

When you show you are confident and supportive, you are able to avoid most defensive behaviour with your audience… you also build trust. Constructive feedback and managing difficult conversations is key to creating and maintaining a collaborative work (and family) environment.

Conclusion

Happy, motivated people are dedicated and their pride in their work is far greater than a pay check. Their pride is connected to things like:

  • The support they receive
  • What they accomplish
  • What they’ve learned
  • Relationships they build / experience

Studies show that as many as 80% of business professionals avoid giving constructive feedback because they were afraid of how the other person would react; they anticipate defensive behaviour. The reality is that when you manage expectations and provide constructive feedback, difficult conversations almost always improve productivity, relationships and so much more… long term.

Once you and your employees know how to give and receive constructive feedback you’ll never look back.

Happy communicating.

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Difficult Conversations vs. Conflict

Difficult conversations are not always conflict situations.

Difficult Conversations vs. Conflict

Conflict is a situation where there is a difference in perspective, values, belief, behaviour or needs that creates a gap. To close this gap, conflict situations almost always require negotiation and / or compromise by one or both organizations / persons.

Difficult conversations also have difference in perspective, values, belief, behaviour or needs but it is not imperative for both parties to agree to close the gap. It is important for both parties to state their perspective – and then each party gets to decide what they want to do with the information – to change or not… to close the gap or not… to find synergy.synergy

Here’s an example.

Bob misses an agreed upon deadline. In this case, there is no conflict – the reality is Bob missed an agreed upon deadline.

It will likely be uncomfortable for Bob’s boss to discuss how Bob can avoid letting the team down in the future. It will likely also be uncomfortable for Bob to be on the receiving end of this conversation. But, we can agree there is no conflict with why they need to have a difficult conversation.

Perhaps Bob’s need was for another project deadline, or his belief was that this project wasn’t important, or that his values meant he spent more time with his family. It doesn’t matter – negotiation isn’t required… Bob missed the previously agreed upon deadline.

Benefit of Managing Difficult Conversations

Managing difficult conversations and conflict almost always has a long-term and significant positive impact. In addition, the negative, (difficult), components are often not nearly as severe as we ‘think’ they will be. It’s natural that the drama we create in our own mind is far worse than what happens – everyone does this.

Conclusion

Most of us are really good at stewing on difficult conversations and conflict situations – but we are worried about upsetting relationships that are close to us – if feels better to smile and pretend to be happy – but might erode the relationship and/or productivity.

The reality is that when we manage difficult conversations and conflict situations we find they are an opportunity for the whole relationship or team or organization to see things differently, learn and to grow.

Happy communicating.

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How To Deal With Passive Aggressive People

I often get asked during my ‘Managing Difficult Conversations’ training workshops “How to deal with passive aggressive people.” So, of course I decided to write a blog about how to manage people who try to manage us.

Sure, some people are naturally manipulative or angry… but I believe the majority of people aren’t aware they are being passive aggressive; instead they are unconsciously using a learned behaviour (from dramatic parents, daytime soap operas and 100 other examples in society), to avoid difficult uncomfortable conversations. Also, we need to accept that all of us are passive aggressive sometimes… it just slips out.Passive Aggressive People

So, instead of facing difficult conversations, passive aggressive behaviour is an effectively covert albeit manipulative way to:

  • Express anger
  • Show disagreement/disapproval
  • Manage someone or a situation
  • Get our way

Examples Of Passive Aggressive Comments:

It’s difficult to deal with passive aggressive people because their behaviour can be so subtle it’s not immediately recognizable. Lets look at examples so we can learn to recognize it quickly.

  • The Hapless Victim / Teflon Man: Often play the “You never think I do it correctly” card so might ask “How would you like me to do it”
  • The Sarcasm Master: They say things like, “Sure, I’d love to stay late. What else would I be doing?”
  • The Silent Treatment Snubber: Nuff said
  • The Withholder of Information: They say things like, “I thought you knew.”
  • The Controller: Say things like, “No one else would help you like I do.”
  • Back-stabber / showing artificial concern: “I don’t want to hurt you; I’m saying this because I care.”
  • Deliberately Poor Performer: So they won’t be asked again rather than having to say ‘No’
  • The Late Runner: Someone saying, “I’m coming,” and then shows up even later.
  • The Procrastinator: Not doing something that’s asked of him/her… or “I Didn’t Know You Meant Now.”

Still not sure you can recognize passive aggressive behaviour quickly? One of the best indicators that you are running into passive aggressive people is when you notice you feel uncomfortable about how someone is behaving or if you’re getting angry, upset or disappointed by someone’s behaviour.

How Leaders Deal With Passive Aggressive People

When you notice somebody being passive aggressive it’s the time to begin preparing to find out what’s bothering them or what they are avoiding.

Like I mentioned above, everyone exhibits passive aggressive behaviour from time to time. But, when it’s happening often there’s a great opportunity as a leader for you to offer to help them correct their behaviour and support your whole team.

The biggest mistakes leaders make is letting the behaviour slide. When we let it slide it will almost always get worse and eventually can destroy relationships. Instead, see it as an opportunity to making a situation better – even if you have to have a difficult conversation or two to get there.  Here are three things to keep in mind:

  • Passive aggressive behaviour happens at home and at work. Give your employees and your family members safe space to have conversations when they are feeling frustrated.
  • Be clear about your purpose. Global phrases like “You’re always this way!” will put someone on the defensive. Don’t be aggressive; be respectful with timing and language. Use phrases like, “I’ve noticed that I feel XYZ when you enter the room… vs., Every time you enter the room…”
  • Be patient to what is happening. Don’t react to them, take a moment to respond with controlled intention. This likely isn’t about you at all – it’s about them. Be mindful of your goals and values and if responding to their passive aggressive behaviour will jeopardize your integrity.

Passive aggressive behaviour will escalate conflict if left unchecked. Don’t let your or your team be manipulated. Approach the situation the same way you would approach a difficult conversation. One of the most important steps is to show how this is impacting you – like Point 3 in my most recent Difficult Conversation blog post, show emotion but don’t be emotional. Use ‘I’ language not ‘You’ language.

Conclusion

People who don’t feel they have permission or who are worried about how the other person will react will often use passive aggressive behaviour as a ‘safe’ attempt to express their needs, anger and/or frustration. Sometimes the person is aware that they are doing it and sometimes they are not.

Avoiding a passive aggressive situation is almost never the best solution. If this is happening at work or with your family / friends, if the problem isn’t dealt with honestly and respectfully it ends up either creating more problems or escalating current problems until they get too big to handle.

Happy communicating and dealing with passive aggressive people.

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Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Email Etiquette, Managing Difficult Conversations, Mindfulness and more. Give us a call at 416 617 0462. We’ll listen.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

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Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at brucemayhewconsulting.com.

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

Having Difficult Conversations: Why They Are Important

Difficult conversations are important to have, so why do we avoid them? We avoid difficult conversations for many reasons, including:

  • We don’t want to make matters worseWhy It's Important To Have Difficult Conversations
  • We fear we’ll be attacked back
  • We don’t want to be mean 

It’s natural to fear difficult conversations – however the truth is that when we practice compassion and treat each other with respect, the conversations rarely are as difficult as we expect.

Avoiding vs. Having Difficult Conversations

When we avoid difficult conversations the issue never has a chance to be resolved. Plus, as we play the stories over and over in our mind, the stories gets louder and the people in the stories become bigger and bigger villains.

Having difficult conversations is an opportunity to build trust and respect. When we learn to build trust we also learn we can challenge each other without fear which means our relationships with other people and/or organizations improve greatly.

When we have difficult conversations we:

  • Demonstrate we care enough to bother (vs. sweep it under the rug)
  • Respect creativity and other people’s opinions / experiences / education
  • Might identify we are missing something – (two minds are better than one)
  • Build confidence in ourselves and our relationships
  • Create trust and respect

Having Difficult Conversations (how to prepare)

Difficult conversations should have a structure and the following 8 steps will help you prepare. When you can’t prepare, fall back on what will soon become your great experience. Overall, stay positive, listen mindfully, be compassionate (don’t attack), and do not be defensive. Difficult conversations are rarely conflict situations until we make them that way.

For example, you might be thinking “They are lazy,” when in reality they had other important priorities you didn’t know of.

Once you’ve agreed to take the initiative, use the following steps to prepare:

  1. Decide what you want to say in advance:
    • Then, decide if this is worthy of sharing or is this all about ‘you’ and something you need to work through on your own.
  2. Explore ‘What is your purpose, what is your desired outcome and what are your facts? How can you frame it so it’s not an attack? Why is this difficult for you? What are you afraid of?’
  3. Be prepared to discuss behaviour & how you feel. For example:
    • Instead of “I hate the way you interrupt me,” share your story. “Each time I began answering the customer’s question you spoke over me. I’m not sure you even noticed, so I wanted to share this with you because when this happens I feel like you don’t trust my experience.”
  4. Have you contributed to the problem?
    • Take personal responsibility – own your own stuff.
  5. Is the timing right for you AND them? Are they in a space where they can manage the difficult conversation? This cannot be your excuse NOT to have the difficult conversation:
  6. Start by saying this is hard for you:
    • I would like to talk about something that you may find challenging. This is hard for me also but it’s important.
  7. Stay positive, flexible and listen mindfully. If your purpose is honorable a few mistakes will be overlooked.
  8. Afterwards, evaluate how it went. What did you learn? Could you have done it differently?

If this really is a difficulty conversation, the other person now has the choice to do something with the information you shared… or to do nothing. If this was a conflict situation, some resolution will have to be found. (I will discuss the differences between Difficult Conversations vs. Conflict in another next post).

Conclusion

Having difficult conversations is vital to healthy, vibrant relationships.

Get clear on your purpose – make sure your purpose is constructive and not about teaching them a lesson. If you get emotional, heated and off topic then it’s likely they will also get emotional.

And finally, be comfortable being uncomfortable. Yup – difficult conversations will be uncomfortable. But, you are amazing. Your intentions are good and you are willing to be uncomfortable for the benefit of the individual, relationship and/or company.

Happy communicating.

Click here to join our priority list to receive our latest Business Communication blog posts.

If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

Click on the image to watch us on Canada AM.

Give us a call at 416 617 0462. We’ll listen.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at brucemayhewconsulting.com.

View Bruce Mayhew's profile on LinkedIn

Bruce Mayhew Consulting

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

How To Begin Difficult Conversations

Precious few people enjoy having difficult conversations. Many of us full-out avoid difficult conversations for a number of reasons. We fear how people will react. We feel stressed about what we should or should not say. We worry we’ll lose a relationship that’s important to us.

The result of all this self-induced stress is that we often convince ourselves it’s better to avoid the conversation… except that in almost every case the pressure keeps building and everything keeps getting worse. So, lets look at how to begin difficult conversations.

Create A Foundation For Difficult ConversationsDifficult Conversations

Three of the most important things to remember when having difficult conversations are:

  • Be genuine and treat everyone with respect
  • Be honest and empathetic
  • Share your emotions (likely nervousness), but don’t be emotional

If you do these three things I promise, even if you have difficulties during the conversation you will likely be forgiven. In fact – not being perfect might help you build rapport as it demonstrates you are human just like they are.

Overcome Fear Of Having Difficult Conversations

Fear is a natural and understandable reason why we avoid difficult conversations. When we fear something we never fear the best case… we fear the worst.

For Example: If we fear falling down, we fear a broken hip not a light bruise. Same thing goes for having difficult conversations. The stories we tell ourselves almost always are worse than any outcome or the constant stress of not acting. Unfortunately, by not reacting we waste time and energy and never get to experience all the opportunities that COULD HAVE BEEN if we cleared the air.

Build Trust And Respect

In most cases, people who have difficult conversations build better relationships. Why? Because as long as those conversations are built on honesty and respect, the process teaches us that we can trust each other. Difficult discussions also often lead to creative and successful solutions – which adds team pride to your relationship.

Some conversations will be easy – some will be difficult – all will be worth it.

By having difficult conversations we:

  • Show the other people we care
  • Help everyone involved see a different perspective (creativity)
  • Tap into (and practice) empathy
  • Become better families, friends and/or organizations

Be Clear On Your Motive

Your motive is very important… and it requires self-reflection. If your motive is to support the other person, a project or even a whole team, you can mess up the conversation technically (I’ll share my 12 point steps in future blogs), and still have a great outcome. If your motives are honest and respectful your audience will realize your good intentions (maybe not immediately), and will cut you some slack. If your motive is selfish, your technique can be flawless and the outcome will be… well… you know… not so great.

Take Great Care With Timing of Difficult Conversations

Time and place are very important. Even if you only spend a few minutes preparing, your prep time is well worth it. You also want to make sure your audience is in a space they feel safe. Don’t try to have a difficult conversation just before they have to run out the door or before an important client meeting.

This is going to be a sensitive discussion so find a time and place where you won’t be interrupted, where everyone will feel safe and where an open/respectful discussion can take place.

Conclusion

How you manage the fear and stress associated with having difficult conversations will make you happier and more emotionally engaged… in the long run. Be confident and respectful in a way that demonstrates you are dedicated to being part of the conversation and a solution.

When your motives are true and when you are empathetic about their and your feelings, 9 times out of 10 you will end the conversation (or series of conversations), with a better relationship.

How you begin difficult conversations will always be an investment in your future.

Happy communicating.

Click here to join our priority list to receive our latest Business Communication blog posts.

If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Give us a call at 416 617 0462. We’ll listen.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at brucemayhewconsulting.com.

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

Click on the image to watch us on Canada AM.

View Bruce Mayhew's profile on LinkedIn

Bruce Mayhew Consulting

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

 

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