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7 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations at Work

By vts | April 13, 2017
7 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations at Work

Who hasn’t felt it—that fear in the pit of your stomach on Sunday night knowing you have to confront someone or have a difficult conversation at work the next day?

Nobody enjoys conflict and yet there’s no escaping it. According to the publishers of the Myers-Briggs Assessment, CPP Inc., employees spend 2.8 hours per week involved in disagreement that disrupt the flow of work.

The price tag for those conflicts? $359 billion or 386 million working days.

A research study by the Conflict Resolutions Center states that at least 30-40 percent of the daily activities of leaders and managers is consumed with trying to resolve conflicts.

As long as people are involved in the workplace, conflict is unavoidable. However, Robert Townsend, known for transforming Avis into a rental car giant, said a good leader and manager “doesn’t try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people.”

Here are 7 tips to help you preserve that energy as a leader and have those difficult conversations at work:

  • Do It ASAP. Whenever conflict arises, everyone is tempted to avoid it, procrastinate dealing with it, or ask someone else to resolve it for us. But the truth is that anytime you let a problem go, it only gets worse. When people are put in a situation where they start speculating motives, they often think the worst. A lack of clarity invites more conflict, not less.
  • Know Your Why. Why do you feel the need to have the difficult conversation? Is it because you feel uncomfortable or because addressing the situation is best for the team? Keep the team interests first, the person’s interests second, and your own comfort level last. Confront because you care—about the team, the person, and the health of the organization.
  • Recognize the High Cost of Not Confronting. Nothing kills productivity in the workplace like a leader who is unwilling to have the difficult conversations—when everyone on the team knows it needs to happen. It’s great to have a team of people who want to “get along,” but sometimes leaders must have difficult conversations so that the rest of the team can continue to “get along.”
  • Leave “Your Place” and Visit “Their Place.” Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Listen to his or her concerns. Study what they do every day. Or visit their physical space, where they spend time each day to get a sense of the challenges they face that you may not realize. There’s a saying that the person who gives an opinion before he understands is human, but the person who gives judgment before he understands is a fool. Don’t be that person.
  • Check Your Attitude First. You can be right and still lose, if you enter tough conversations with a tough exterior. How you go about confrontations can be just as important as why. Start by assessing your own motives and attitude before you start confronting the motives and attitudes of others. Then intentionally communicate a caring posture through your body language, facial expressions, tone of voice—both non-verbal and verbal cues.
  • Listen—You May Learn Something. Often leaders enter challenging conversations based on faulty information or they just don’t know what they thought they knew. Before starting a difficult conversation, get clear on the facts then be open to hearing a different side of things from the other side of the conversation. You may have to sort excuses from reality, but by listening intentionally you protect all involved and leave the door open for the best possible outcome.
  • Acknowledge Other Valid Viewpoints. Even if you disagree on some things, acknowledge the perspectives of others and affirm their input wherever possible. Otherwise you risk being dismissed as attacking the person rather than caring for the team. Affirming their perspectives in some areas doesn’t weaken your own position. In fact, it may strengthen it.

Learning how to deal with conflict in your organization can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone. You can equip your leaders and teams to embrace difficult conversations as opportunities for potential growth.

Why not implement changes that are effective, efficient, and long-lasting?

Our 5 Strategies to Win With People workshop is designed to do just that so you and your team can make having difficult but productive conversations part of your company culture.

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