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How to Handle Tough Conversations

How to Handle Tough Conversations


    I just finished a terrific book called Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. Authors Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Kerry Patterson, and Al Switzler define a “crucial conversation” as one where opinions vary, something is at risk, and emotions are running high.

    The results of truly crucial conversations have a large impact on your quality of life. However, despite their importance, we often back away from crucial conversations because we feel awkward or fear that we’ll make the situation worse.  And when we do attempt to have them, we’re prone to making stupid or offensive comments that lead to disaster. Some work-related topics that involve crucial conversations include:

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    • Talking to a co-worker who is behaving badly
    • Giving the boss feedback about his management style
    • Critiquing a direct report’s work
    • Confronting a team member who is shirking her responsibilities
    • Giving an unfavorable performance review

    Twenty-five years of research involving 17 organizations and more than 100,000 people led the authors to conclude that the most critical skill of competent leaders is the ability to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues.

    My own crucial conversation

    I have a confession to make. This book has been sitting on my shelf for a few years now, but I consulted it today because I need to have a crucial conversation myself.  There is a woman I work with who never meets deadlines. I’ve talked to her multiple times about this issue, but the situation hasn’t improved. At this point, she’s acknowledged that I’m nagging her, which probably makes her even less likely to comply. I wish I could just let it go, but every missed deadline is costing me time and money.

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    According to Crucial Conversations, I’ve been addressing a symptom rather than the problem itself. The real problem here is that my co-worker doesn’t feel that it’s important to fulfill her commitments, and a symptom of this is missing deadlines.

    The book suggests that I look for patterns in her behavior (i.e. other instances where she doesn’t do what she said she was going to do) and have a calm and honest conversation about those. And if I do seem a little frustrated, my emotions won’t seem out of proportion because I’m not addressing a single incident but a global problem that signals a lack of trust and respect.

    My plan of attack

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    So what might my approach to the conversation look like?

    “Jessica (not her real name), I’ve noticed that lately you’ve been missing deadlines, leaving the office before we’ve finalized client deliverables, and forgetting to make your prospecting calls. When you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, it makes me feel like you lack commitment to this job and that I can’t trust you.   I would like to understand where you’re coming from so we can decide if this position is a good fit for you.”

    I recognize that this conversation has the potential to grow defensive and heated and I will do my best to remain calm, listening carefully to Jessica’s point of view. Throughout, I must remind myself of what I really want, which is for Jessica to change her behavior to demonstrate a true commitment to our work.  If she can do that following this interaction, then I need to let bygones be bygones.”

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    What crucial conversations have you had recently? What did you do right, and what did you do wrong? What do you feel you need to work on to be even more effective?

    (Photo credit: Middle-aged Man Holding Phone While Young Woman Yells via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on October 16, 2019

    5 Powerful Ways for Building Fulfilling Relationships

    5 Powerful Ways for Building Fulfilling Relationships

    We all have relationships. We have acquaintances, relatives, colleagues, neighbors and friends. However, for a large percentage of us, many of these relationships are not fulfilling.

    They are unfulfilling because they lack real strength; and they lack real strength because they lack real depth.

    Unfortunately, in today’s society, we tend to have shallow, superficial relationships with others, and it’s extremely hard for this kind of relationships to provide anything more than faint satisfaction.

    I’d like to show you, based on my experience as a communication and confidence coach, how you can add a significant amount of depth, and thus strength, to your relationships and make your social life a whole lot more meaningful.

    Here’re 5 simple yet powerful ways for meaningful relationships building:

    1. Meet More People

    This is an apparent paradox, but the quality of the people you meet has considerably to do with the quantity of people you meet.

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    If you don’t know a lot of people and you barely meet one or two new people every season of the year, considering the variety of individuals out there, you won’t meet very often people who are a good match with you in terms of personality, interests and values.

    And since this natural match plays a huge part in building strong relationships, you’ll just as seldom have the opportunity to develop strong relationships.

    Conversely, if you go out a lot, you meet a lot of new people and you constantly expand your social circle, you’re much more likely to meet people you match up well with, and these people have a tremendous potential to become good friends, reliable partners, etc.

    This is why it’s important to meet more people.

    2. Talk about the Things That Matter To You

    A relationship becomes the strongest when two people discover they believe in the same things and have similar interests. It’s these commonalities regarding values and interests that create the strongest emotional connection.

    I’ve noticed that many people keep conversations shallow. They talk about trivial stuff such as the weather, what’s on TV, the lives of various movie stars, but they rarely talk about what really matters to them in life. This is a mistake from my perspective, because it’s the perfect method for a relationship to not develop.

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    Talk about the things that truly matter to you and give others a chance to know what you care about and what you believe in. If they believe in the same things and they care about the same things, they’ll eagerly let you know. Thus you’ll find meaningful common ground and you’ll feel more connected.

    3. Express Vulnerability

    Many people try to come off as perfect. They don’t talk about their failures, they hide their shortcomings and they never say anything that could embarrass them.

    This is all just a facade though. You may appear perfect to some, but you know you’re not perfect and they know that too. You’re only human and humans have flaws.

    However, by hiding your flaws, what you do succeed in is appearing cold and impersonal. You seem like a marble statue rather than a real person. And this makes it very hard for anyone to connect with you emotionally.

    Humans connect with other humans, not with ideals. Keep this in mind and don’t be afraid to let your vulnerability and your humanity show. This is what takes a relationship to the next level.

    Take a look at this article and find out Why Showing Vulnerability Actually Proves Your Strength.

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    4. Have Integrity

    Integrity, as I see it, is the alignment between your thoughts, your words and your actions. When you say what you think and you do what you said you’ll do, you have integrity.

    This is a crucial trait because if you have integrity, people can trust you. They can trust you to give them an honest feedback, even when it’s hard to shallow, and they can trust you to keep your promises.

    This trust is one of the central pillars of a strong relationship, both in your personal and your professional life. So, as challenging as it can be sometimes, always try to have integrity.

    Be honest with the people around you, even when this will initially hurt them. It’s more important for them to trust you than to not feel hurt. And always do what you promised. Even better, think twice before you promise anything, and only promise what you really can and you are willing to do.

    5. Be There for Others

    Another central pillar of strong relationships is support. Connections between people grow sturdy if they can rely on each other for support when it’s needed, whether that support means a few kind words or several massive actions.

    Of course, you can’t be there for everybody, all the time. Your time, energy and other resources are limited. But what you can do is identify the genuinely important people in your life and then seek to be there as much as possible, at least for them.

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    Your support will help them practically, and it will comfort them emotionally; which makes one hell of a difference in a relationship.

    The Bottom Line

    With the right mindset and the right behavior, you can strengthen a wide range of relationships in your life and advance them as far as they can be advanced.

    And with strong relationships, not only that you feel more fulfilled, but you feel more connected to the entire world. You feel that your life has real value, you have more fun and you live in the moment. An entire world of opportunities opens up in front of you.

    Then your task is to simply walk through the open doors.

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