From time to time we all encounter situations where a person’s behaviour is inappropriate and we feel a need to say something. However, these conversations aren’t easy or enjoyable. So how do you successfully conduct courageous conversations in the workplace?
As a business owner, it may be that your job requires you to have these conversations with people on a regular basis. Performance issues often require courageous conversations. Or maybe it’s something more personal or you may have to tell someone that they didn’t get the promotion and give some hard feedback as to why.
A common myth is that raising the issue might make things worse, however a carefully constructed conversation might save things from getting worse.
Recent data from AccessEAP, a corporate psychology organisation which supports and develops positive organisational behaviour, shows that conflict with managers and colleagues is among the top 10 pressing issues that Australians face in the workplace. Close to 15 per cent of the employees, seeking support, are presented with this issue.
Conflict is an unavoidable consequence of working life, but in many instances it doesn’t have to escalate to that level. It is a myth that raising an issue could turn a working relationship sour; however, a carefully constructed conversation might be the saviour.
Our imaginations are very powerful, and this can be quite problematic when coupled with the anxiety which is often generated by the prospect of having a potentially difficult conversation. We tend to imagine that the worst will happen.
Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects, we need to reframe these conversations as courageous conversations and focus on the opportunities these could present.
Here are some tips on having courageous conversations constructively for a more desirable outcome:
1. Be confident with your concerns
It can be easy to stop ourselves raising concerns by minimising their importance. For example, we may tell ourselves we are ‘just being silly’, we are ‘being too sensitive’ or ‘it’s not such a big deal’.
These thoughts are counterproductive because fear keeps you from being courageous.
If the issue is impacting you or someone else negatively, or if there are consequences to not raising the issue, then it’s important to do so.
Be clear about the reasons why you are initiating the conversation and be confident in what you are saying.
2. Focus on the behaviour
Let the person know that it is their behaviour that is upsetting or concerning you. Be careful not to label the person, as this can result in them becoming defensive.
Counter their defensiveness by distinguishing the problem from the person, and invite their input in how to address the issue.
For example, instead of saying “You’re selfish and lazy”, you could say “When you leave me to clean up everything, I feel let down because I’m doing it all alone without any help.”
3. Be clear and specific
Anxiety about how someone might react can lead to messages being ‘watered down’.
We may give a lot of positive feedback to the negative, or we might talk generally to a group about a behaviour that bothers us without speaking directly to the person involved.
The risk is that your message will not be heard by them.
Say what you sincerely believe needs to be said, even if you know the person you are speaking to may not enjoy hearing it.
Share what it is you want to say, and be sure to phrase it in a way that is respectful towards that person.
This can sometimes be the hard part because people can be defensive or angry after hearing your concerns and feedback. They may deny that there’s an issue and even convince you it’s ‘all in your head’.
Before you launch into your opinion of the situation, listen first. Don’t interrupt, explain, justify or defend.
There are always two sides to a story, and there will be time respond later.
5. Respond calmly
Depending on how the person has reacted to your concerns, remaining calm can be tricky. However, focus on clarifying the factual accuracies of what the person has said.
Their feelings are subjective and you can’t change these. The person may be angry with you for some time.
Confidently restate your concerns but remember if you start getting upset, call time out. You have to manage your own emotions first before you can respond well to others.
You may need some time to think about what each other has said before you come to a resolution or compromise.
Sally Kirkright is the CEO of AccessEAP.