Are you finding it hard to handle difficult conversations with colleagues that you line manage?
Having a difficult conversation does not always mean that we are dealing with difficult people. In many instances, it will be colleagues we like, we respect and who mean a lot to us as part of our teams. Equally, not everyone you are going to meet in your life is going to be someone you like and can work with; and not everyone you meet is going to like you and can work with you. Being with a difficult person is perceived as difficult. A difficult person can make you defensive, exhausted, fearful, miserable, angry, unhappy. You are left with no time and no energy. Your stress hormone called Cortisone is your public health enemy number 1. Elevating your cortisone level interferes with your learning and memory, lowers your immune system and bone density, increases your weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease; and the list goes on.
Would you agree that the cost of resolving conflict is small relative to the high cost of leaving conflicts unresolved? Most importantly, unresolved conflict can be toxic to both you and your organization.
What if I gave you the opportunity to look at the situation with a different pair of glasses? One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is ‘How am I managing difficult conversations at work?’ If the answer is ‘I am not really managing very well’ then read on…
How do you feel about having those types of conversations?
- Addressing poor performance or conduct
- Dealing with personal problems
- Agreeing deliverables or setting targets
- Dealing with absence
- Investigating complaints/dealing with grievances
- Comforting or reassuring someone – for example, if they are to be made redundant
- Tackling personality clashes or styles of working
- Turning down a promotion
- Dealing with potentially delicate situations, such as turning down requests for annual leave or to work flexibly.
What fear do you have?
- Upsetting people
- Colleagues might quit
- Feeling uncomfortable
- Experiencing pain, hurt, disappointment, shame, failure, so becoming vulnerable ourselves in our attempts to address a conflict or engage in a difficult discussion.
You are not alone having difficult conversations!
CIPD finds that ‘nearly four in ten UK employees (38%) report some form of interpersonal conflict at work in the last year. This includes an isolated dispute or incident of conflict (29% of UK employees reporting at least one case) and ongoing difficult relationships (28%).’
How can I help you with your conversation?
Start with why? If you are unsure, watch this TED Talk from Simon Sinek.
- What do I want to get out of it?
- What outcomes would resolve the situation?
How about Transformation? You gain cooperation, strengthen the relationship with the individual, and help your organisation in achieving its business goals.
Choose the right words and be neutral. In other words, use expressions such as ‘it seems like’, ‘it sounds like’, ‘it looks like’ and not ‘I am hearing that’ because using ‘I’ gets people’s guard up.
Do not forget the following:
- Do not interrupt. Too often, we are thinking and preparing our defence instead of listening to what the other person is saying.
- Do not deny. Since each person is following rule #1, s/he is owning what s/he is saying. You have to respect their perception.
- Do not mix complaints. Stay on one topic. Past and other issues can be handled at another time.
- Put yourself in others’ shoes and respond from that position.
- If you cannot agree during the discussion: ‘Since we can’t seem to agree, can we continue talking about it another day so we can think of more solutions?’ Often a conflict can’t be resolved in the initial discussion. Taking time out to think and reflect may help with fresh ideas and perspectives.
- If you want to make sure that this does not happen again: ‘What can I do to improve communications so this does not happen again?’ This focuses the conflict on the process and not the people, which is critical for resolution.
- If the other person is yelling at you: ‘I want to listen to your point of view, but I can’t do it when you are yelling at me’. This sets the ground rules and prevents the situation from getting out of control.
- If you see things differently: ‘I understand your point of view, but I see it differently’. After listening to their perspective, it is certainly acceptable now to disagree and outline reasons for your opinion as the leader (remember to use the facts and think of your ‘why’).
Use the NP Model for your conversation
STEP 1 – Make a list of what you/line manager have observed. Those are the facts that nobody should be able to argue with. There are not assumptions or feelings either. This is about a behaviour, performance change that is observable and therefore measurable.
Example: ‘I’ve noticed that we’ve used 65% of our training budget. We have 7 months left on this budget’ or ‘Yesterday I saw you slam down the phone and leave work early.’
STEP 2 – List the direct impact on the team/budget/project and the indirect impact (client/KPI/business strategy…).
Example: ‘If we continue like this, we will use all of the budget by March and we will end up running over budget or cutting down on approving training for the staff which in itself could affect the quality of the delivery of our services on our clients.’
STEP 3 – Justify why you wanted this person specifically to know about it.
Example: ‘I wanted to talk to you about this as I know you have high standards for your team and for yourself. I know you expect training to be delivered as per our timeline, budget.’
STEP 4 – Ask for what you want, not what you don’t want. Focus on the future and not the past.
Example: Using a negative such as ‘I don’t want you to miss your sales numbers this month’ might sound like a threat. Saying ‘I want you to easily make your sales numbers this month’ shows support and ambition for your team member.
STEP 5 – Invite the other person to input.
Example: ‘What do you think we could do to improve the current situation or to change the current trajectory?’
STEP 6 – Have a commitment, close the conversation with next steps.
Example: ‘That sounds great, so we agree that you will do X and I will do Y. You will communicate to your team and send a follow-up email to them CCing me in.’
STEP 7 – Make sure your colleague feels listened to before moving forward.
Example: ‘Is there anything else I can do to support you?’
What George Clooney’s character can teach you about difficult conversations
George Clooney is playing an experienced consultant who is hired to lead a restructuring. He is support by a more junior colleague. How do you tell people that they are going to lose their job?
The junior colleague tried to use logical persuasion (data, facts…) but in this instance, it did not work. George Clooney, on the other hand, appeals to the person’s values and possibilities (hidden talents). He gets there by being inquisitive and curious. He clearly shows that he has read the CV and has picked up on talents.
How do you seek to influence people?
In his book ‘The Art of Influence: Persuading Others Begins With You‘, Chris Widener makes an important distinction between persuading and influencing. ‘Persuasion is about what you do to other people. It is about techniques. How to win an argument, how to make a presentation, that sort of stuff. Influence is your ability to change another person’s thoughts, beliefs, or actions.It is about understanding the nuances and subtleties of human psychology and how people act toward you and react to you.”
It might be easier to build great relationships from the start
- Having you on our team makes a huge difference.
- It’s so refreshing working with you.
- I really admire how you handled that [situation/difficult customer/task]!
- Your role is important to the success of the team and of the company.
- We couldn’t have done it without you.
# Encouragement and Trust
- I trust your judgment on this decision.
- I have total confidence in your abilities to deliver on this project.
- What can I do to help you develop further?
- My door is always open.
- When can we schedule some time to discuss your career path and development goals?
- I want to make sure you have everything you need to succeed. Any obstacles in the way? Any barriers we can remove?
- How can I better support you as your line manager or direct report?
- I would love your feedback on any changes I need to make before presenting.
- I want to play to your strengths.
- Tell me how that works. I am keen to learn from you.
This blog ‘Are you finding it hard to handle difficult conversations?’ gives you an opportunity to think about how you can prepare for that conversation without fear. Thank you as ever for stopping by. What do you think of what you’ve read? I hope it’s helpful if you are thinking of looking for an Executive and Leadership Coach who does virtual coaching. Feel free to comment below or Tweet me @NadinePowrie with any comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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