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Difficult Conversations in the Workplace Rea Freeland Ron Placone
Discussion over Dinner What types of issues or situations have you found to lead to difficult conversations in the workplace? What are some factors that can make these conversations difficult? We’ll start our large group discussion in about 15-20 minutes.
Objectives To recognize common patterns of communication that can produce difficult conversations and the underlying factors that make them difficult. To discuss and apply models for dealing with difficult conversations with supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates.
Agenda Briefly discuss examples from groups Present models for handling difficult conversations Explore options for sample scenarios in small groups and as a large group Summarize strategies and problems to watch out for
Models and Related Strategies Getting to Yes Getting Past No Feedback Approaches Exchange Theory Learning Conversations
Common Components of Successful Conversations Prepare, especially where to begin. Know your own interests and the essence of what you need. Anticipate (or find out) others’ interests. Focus on interests and behaviors, not personalities. Create an environment based on trust.
“Getting to Yes” Strategy Separate People from the Problem Focus on Interests, not Positions Invent Options for Mutual Gain Use Objective Criteria Develop Your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)
“Getting Past No” Strategy Go to the Balcony Step to Their Side Reframe Build Them a Golden Bridge Use Power to Educate
Feedback/Learning Approach Focus on the situation, issue or behavior that you hope will change. Recognize accomplishments and effort. Frame comments in terms of perceptions and potential consequences. Be specific, future-oriented, and timely. Engage in joint problem solving.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls When giving feedback: Invite questions and clarifications; maintain two-way communication. Acknowledge the other’s concerns; listen for what may be difficult for them to change. Follow up to help them with new approaches; change is seldom straightforward.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls When receiving feedback: Listen calmly; avoid over-explaining. Work hard to see the other’s perspective and ask questions to clarify as needed. Assume good intentions unless clearly proven otherwise.
Exchange Theory Assume the other is a potential ally. Clarify your goals and priorities. Diagnose your ally’s goals, concerns, and needs. Assess your resources relative to your ally’s wants. Diagnose your relationship with your ally (e.g. do you need to prove your good intentions?). Determine an exchange approach; be prepared for expectations of reciprocity. See handout for examples of valued currencies that can often be exchanged.
Learning Conversations Analyze the difference in your view and the other party’s view of events. Intentions Impact on the other Contributions to the difficulty Impact on identity Decide what you want to accomplish and whether talking is the best way. Start the conversation as the difference in your perspectives and listen carefully. Invent options to meet each party’s important concerns and interests.
Sample Scenarios Each small group of 3-5 will have a scenario and will be asked to consider: What could make this scenario difficult for each of you in the group? What range of strategies would the group consider to handle it?
Types of Scenarios You and a supervisor You as the supervisor You and a colleague/peer You as a member of a project team You negotiating in a difficult situation
Consider for each scenario Have you had related experiences? Where might the conversation best begin? What would you watch out for in: Word choice Tone of voice Nonverbal communication
How do you let your boss know if you think he/she is making an error?
How do you give directions to a strong-willed employee who insists on doing things his/her own way and who often argues with you?
How do you respond when a colleague believes you are treading on his/her perceived turf, even when the roles are ambiguous?
How might you give unsolicited negative feedback to someone on your project team who is making others’ tasks more difficult?
How could you negotiate (e.g. for a job or promotion) when you can’t or don’t want to compromise on one of their top priorities?
Concluding Points Be aware of timing – waiting to talk only helps a difficult situation if the cause is likely to change on its own. Recognize the possibility of transforming relationships – trusting someone enough to talk about difficult matters can lead to more constructive interactions.
Elements of Building Trust Take responsibility for your own actions. Stay interested in others without much self-promotion. Act to draw out the best in others. Appreciate and value differences. Tell the truth when it matters.