Whether you are the manager, an experienced staffer or simply the new kid on the block, chances are you will be forced into difficult conversations at work. If you are like most people these conversations will be a source of anxiety and stress. They may even affect your mood outside of work. Using some simple techniques of constructive confrontations can save you from much of the trepidation.
So what do we mean by a ‘difficult conversation’?
Douglas Stone in his book Difficult Conversations, defines them as “conversations with high stakes – where there is money or emotional well-being or a relationship on the line…in business, common examples include giving negative feedback, managing a dysfunctional team, making tough decisions where the stakeholders have strongly divergent views, and giving bad news…these discussions can keep even the most experienced executive up at night, wondering how – or even whether – to have the conversation.”
The art of constructive confrontation lies in turning the ‘difficult conversation’ into a ‘learning conversation’. A learning conversation, as Stone puts it, is “a conversation where both people learn about how the other person sees things and how the other person feels.” The idea here is to address the issue in a manner that responds to the concerns of both parties and aims to provide solutions satisfying both.
Here are some guidelines that we have come up with to help you achieve this:
• Assess what happened and question your perception of the issue. Are you basing your story on information, rules, past experiences, hearsay, or your own observations? Consider the intentions of the party you’re finding fault with and account for extenuating circumstances – there may be another version.
• Determine whether or not to confront the issue at hand in the first place. What purpose will confrontation serve? Will it in fact be helpful? A better tactic in certain scenarios might be to focus on “support learning, sharing and problem solving.”
• Try to maintain as much objectivity as you can. Pay attention to what the opposing side has to say, listening and constantly re-framing your argument in a manner that avoids accusations.
• Come up with options that accommodate each side. Establish mutual standards as to what should happen and lay out reasonable expectations that both parties can be held to. Discuss ground rules for a healthy channel for future communication.
• Be mindful of the words you use and the tone you employ. How you phrase a sentence can greatly impact the way it is received and the connotations it puts forth, for instance, “we felt your comments in that particular moment were hurtful and uncalled for” is better than a more accusatory, “you were rude and hurtful”.
• Clarity is key. Be clear of the grievances you hold and of the solution you reach. Otherwise the issue is likely to rise again.
• Don’t hesitate to apologize. A timely apology and kind words show that you respect your colleague. Show that your grievances are limited to the conflict at hand and not aimed at their entire person.
Keeping in mind these seven tips for constructive confrontation will help minimize a lot of anxiety. They will help you remain calm in stressful situations. Having constructive confrontations in the work place will help the atmosphere remain positive, friendly, and safe. It will also ensure that a healthy line of communication is maintained among the employees.
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