When we work with other people we eventually will have a time when we will need to have an unpleasant conversation with someone. If you are a supervisor, there will come a time when you need to visit with an employee about performance or some behavior that is not acceptable. If you are a leader, you may need to visit with a follower about their attitude or behavior. If you are a worker in an office with other workers, you may find the need to visit with another co-worker about an issue or concern that is troublesome. If you are a neighbor, you may need to have a conversation with another neighbor about their dog using your yard as a bathroom. No matter who we are or what role we are in, at some point in our life we will find ourself needing to have a tough conversation with another person.
Most of us find these conversations unpleasant at best and detrimental to the relationship at worst. While there is no magical formula to being successful in these conversations, there are some ideas that may help with the discomfort. Paul Falcone in his book, 101 Tough Conversations To Have With Employees, shares what he calls key rules of communications.
The first rule is about how the message is delivered. Many times it is not what we say, but how we say it that matters. I have noticed many times in my conversations with others, especially my family, if I respond without taking stalk of myself, I can turn a different situation into a major conflict. It may be the tone of my voice or the look on my face that causes the person to react negatively to me. When I finally recognize this is happening and take the actions needed to correct my behavior, I then realize the response had nothing to do with my actual message or the words I used. It is critical to demonstrate respect and compassion when delivering an uncomfortable message.
The second rule to remember is that guilt is a better tool than anger when working with others. Again, when I think about those times that didn’t work well it is usually when I was angry or very frustrated. I wanted to find someone to blame for my anger. I wanted to get even, but for what most of time I didn’t even know. Anger is an emotion that get’s expressed outwardly and is not easily owned by individuals. Appealing to anger, many times leads to resistance of the desired change. Guilt, on the other hand, is an emotion that gets turned inwardly. When I feel responsible for my own inappropriate behavior or attitude, I experience guilt. I now want to make amends and correct the problem my behavior created. By appealing to the guilt and not the anger, we can actually help people make the needed changes.
The third rule of communications is “whatever you want for yourself, give to another.” This one is really hard for me and I am constantly being reminded of it. Many times I have left a conversation wondering why the person was not open and straightforward with me. But, when I look in the mirror, I have to ask myself if I was open and straightforward with the other person.
If I have learned anything about communications in my short life, it has been how difficult some conversations can be. Confrontation can be very difficult for most of us. Any help with addressing these tough situations is extremely important. I have found this resource, 101 Tough Conversations To have With Employees, to be very timely and helpful. While the hints and helps in the book don’t make the distress go away, they do help make the conversations more productive.
Until next time, I encourage you to not ignore those difficult conversations, but to prepare for them and tackle them head-on.