Handling awkward conversations at work
Straight talking tips for women in the workplace.
We all face difficult conversations at work. What usually happens is that you either bite your lip or end up speaking out in anger. Neither is productive or professional. The good news is that the communication skills needed to handle awkward or difficult conversations can be learnt.
Talking to an employee about poor performance, disagreeing with your manager, clearing the air with a friend who has let you down and confronting a toxic colleague who's driving you crazy are just some examples of difficult conversations that most people don’t know how to deal with so they simply avoid having the conversation at all.
Both men and women at all levels of business face these difficult conversations but there are specific difficulties that women in the workplace face:
§ An assertive woman is often perceived as aggressive – this hinders her relationships with her peers and sub-ordinates;
§ A woman is promoted out of her team – and is expected to lead a team that consists of older, male co-workers who may be of a different race and culture. Conflict and resentment result – how should she deal with this? and
§ A very competent woman realises she is too soft and is ‘people pleaser’ in the workplace– how can she learn to be more forceful and be in control of those difficult conversations we all dread?
Common mistakes we all make
The most common mistakes we make when tackling awkward conversations are:
You delay the conversation for as long as possible hoping the problem will just go away – it never does!;
You go in blaming and accusing, believing you are in the right and not even listening to the other persons side of the story;
You assume you have all the facts;
You are certain of what you want even before you have the conversation; and
You feel so strongly about the issue you tend to get emotional.
The emotional intelligence skills that will enable you to have difficult conversations can be learnt like any other workplace skill. The key to success is in the preparation. Taking a deep breath and just saying what you think is not the answer!
What to do before starting a difficult conversation
Before starting a difficult conversation you should ask yourself:
§ What is the purpose of the conversation?
§ What is the ideal outcome? and
§ What assumptions am I making about the intentions of the person I am talking to?
Points to remember to ensure the successful outcome of a difficult conversation
§ The first and most important point is to plan your conversations before you start so they don’t turn into arguments.
§ What is the conversation about? Make sure you choose words that direct your conversations to the real issues.
§ Present facts first, not opinions and in this way create a safe platform for dialogue.
§ Don’t use accusative language – instead of saying “You made me angry” rather say “I felt angry when you did not meet my deadline”.
§ Using your emotions intelligently in conversation. If you know how to defuse emotions then conversations don’t get out of control.
§ Learn how to get people to talk and what to do when they don’t. You will only get the whole picture when others speak up with their ideas and opinions. Once they are talking it is vital that you listen carefully to them.
§ You need to learn how to hold people to account for the consequences of their behaviour and when to institute disciplinary procedures
§ At the end of the conversation make sure you obtain commitment to action. This is essential to ensure problems are properly solved.
Maureen Collins, author of a new book, Straight Talk (Conversations at Work that Get Results)