Difficult conversations aren't difficult if they are still a conversation
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
In the interests of getting along with your Team, it's often good to have a meeting of minds. This doesn't mean you have to be "forever friends", but if we are all treated - at least in part - how we respond best, that's a good start.
I've mentioned "Skilled Incompetence" (Argryis) in a previous post, where behaviours which don't get a lot done, but don't offend, are what drives people to seem incompetent by ignoring problems rather than tackling them head on - in case they upset anybody. The outcome is in fact greater frustration than would have happened if things were addressed.
So what do we do?
There is only one answer - conversation. And there are ways in which you can do this effectively without hurting feelings, but it takes some thinking on your part beforehand:
1. When pointing out a problem offer a solution. This is far better than a point blank "That's awful".
(No one would do that, I hear you say - but I've heard worse. ...and it's not because people are trying to offend, but rather because they've tried so hard not to, they are unpractised in any other method.)
That solution may not work, but at least it opens a dialogue. A criticism without a suggestion just results in the other person going on the defense and worse - digging their heels in even more.
2. Approach each issue with the view that the other person isn't maliciously or deliberately behaving in a way that offends. Even the worst people at work (with perhaps the exception of "American Psycho") don't choose to make things difficult. Their manner or means of communication may be what they are used to. If you need to point an issue out to them - do so in the knowledge that they may be grateful someone has brought it to their attention (especially if it was annoying many). Further, this thought process will also allow you to raise it in a more constructive or supportive manner. And, unless it's illegal/against company protocol, also make it clear that while it does upset you - and give your reason for this - they don't necessarily need to change.
3. Be honest. Similarly to point two - if you think you are being slighted - ask about the issue, or at least explain why that action made you feel that way. At the very least - in doing so you will be able to reflect on your actual feelings regarding (and interpretation of) the occurrence, which allows you to vocalise what you would prefer the other person to do, or justify. If you don't, all that will happen is that bad feeling will fester.
We fear talk because in such a fast-paced world words are often misunderstood and feelings can be easily hurt. However, talking with thought enables you explain your reasons. When there is an explanation, the discussion becomes more akin to the "I'm Ok, you're Ok" approach of Thomas Harris, rather than the - I must be better than you because what you are doing annoys me - implication which so often permeates, ironically because we've "tried to be the bigger person" or "tried not to offend" for so long it just comes out!
...and if someone cannot handle a reasoned approach to discussion, then that is the time for a stronger intervention - and different rules (especially those surrounding evidencing the conversation) apply!
Don't wait until a conversation becomes genuinely "difficult" before you have it...if it is merely a "bug bear" - then that's just a conversation!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt