We all need to have them at some point. Those pesky, dreaded conversations. You know, the ones that can be awkward or uncomfortable or come with a crazy mix of emotions.
When these unwelcome, challenging situations enter your life, your first instinct may be to run away, either physically or mentally. Once you think about the impracticality of escaping, you may minimize the issue – oh it isn’t that bad. Or I’ll just see if it happens again. Or I just will deal with this on my own.
While this is a reality for many of us, I contend that those conversations you want to run from are the very ones you need to have. Why?
Well firstly, you spend the majority of your time with the people at work, so from a practical perspective, you can only avoid these conversations so much. Secondly, HR Magazine reported that in a survey of 4,000 employees, 46 percent said they routinely received confusing or unclear directions, with 36 percent of these employees reporting it happening up to three times each day. So, the directions or cues that you are receiving are likely murky at times and need clarification. Lastly, being effective in difficult conversations takes skill and practice. You will improve if you focus on them.
Let’s start by breaking down three workplace conversations that can be particularly difficult.
Conversation #1: Your close colleague is late on delivering her part of your important project.
Peer relationships can be so rewarding when they develop into friendships and special connections at work. On the flip side, they can be troublesome when a person takes advantage of your connection or assumes that she can have more slack from you because you are friends. Sometimes you can create an exception. Other times, you just can’t.
I once worked with a close colleague who was always micromanaging projects and people, including me. Items were always delivered on time, which I loved, but the approach was off. Many people delivered out of complete fear of being reprimanded – in return, our relationship was continually damaged. A work environment where fear is driving behavior is not a healthy environment. I share this example because it is crucial to share your intention with your colleague. Your intention is to complete the project on time, without stress. Things don’t always go as planned, and yet, you need to articulate how your colleague’s actions affect you and the bigger picture.
At Fierce, we call your impact your emotional wake. After any interaction, you are either leaving behind an afterglow, an aftermath, or an aftertaste. Which one do you want to leave behind? Be mindful of your emotional wake and how you describe the issue. Talk about your feelings, not the other person’s character or other components that can derail your intention. Once you share what you need to, ask questions and be curious to understand how you can best avoid this situation in the future.
Being delayed on a project can be stressful for everyone, and having a conversation is a critical part in preventing making stories up in your head or destroying a friendship that may go far beyond the workplace.
Conversation #2: Your colleague gives you critical feedback you don’t agree with.
This one is tough. There are people in your personal and professional life that you may not want critical feedback from. Or sometimes your inclination to something they share may be – is the pot calling the kettle black? Didn’t you do the same thing last week?
Well, that isn’t productive.
Be open to the possibility that there is a nugget of truth or insight that you can use to your professional advantage. We define fierce feedback as a conversation in which you have the opportunity to see what you may not see. Look past your initial reaction and think bigger picture. Ask questions.
You don’t always have to agree with the feedback that you receive. And you set the tone of your relationship by what you are willing and not willing to hear. If you are caught very off guard by the comment, share that with your colleague and express how you are reconciling that.
There are times when people are not well-intentioned. However, it is important to remember that someone sharing critical feedback with you is extremely difficult for both parties. Reminding yourself of these two realities can help ground you. And ultimately, you are the one who gets to decide what you do with any feedback you receive.
Conversation #3: Your direct report has a consistently negative attitude.
As a leader, you want everyone on your team to be happy, positive, and productive. And then the wide-eyed, bushy-tailed employee turns into Oscar the Grouch. Let’s assume that if you noticed this employee in a funk, you gave him feedback on the negative attitude and its impact on the team and your workplace. And then nothing changed.
This is a beyond frustrating situation that leaves many leaders making up stories about the person that may not be true. This is not good for the leader or the employee. When you have reached a point where an attitude needs to change, you need to explore the attitude with this person.
To be fierce, when something needs to change, use our confrontation tools. For this conversation, you need to clearly and directly open the conversation by laying out the issue and how their attitude is affecting you and others on the team. It is critical that you describe what’s at stake for the person if nothing changes. For instance, if you continue to have a negative attitude, it will affect the projects and opportunities that are given to you, and eventually, your job could be at stake.
Once you tee up your side, open the conversation to further explore the other person’s side. What is happening that you may not be aware of? What does the world look like in their eyes? Ask questions to gain more insight. Set an action plan together and move forward accordingly.
A Fierce Conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation, and make it real. Everyone craves real. So be real. When your instinct may be to shrink and leave the situation, stand tall and be yourself.
Being effective with challenging conversations is like any other skill. The more you practice, the better you will be.
What conversations have your name on them? Go out. Now. Make them fierce.
Want to take it further? Read our previous blog for tips on taking the scare out of your conversations.
What other challenging conversations happen at work? I will share some ways to make them fiercer.