People often dread having a conversation with a colleague or friend they don’t like or have disagreements with, but there is a professional way to navigate the delicate path.
Conversations are part of managing, because supervisors are responsible for — and held accountable for — their team’s performance. Tackling a difficult conversation builds a manager’s credibility and foster’s commitment and improved performance among other people on the team. Here are a few things to consider to make the most of an uncomfortable discussion:
It’s not about winning – We perceive the conversation to be a competition, and we enter it like football players starting a game: eager to go on offense and ready to resist if we need to play defense. We insist we are right, but so does the other person. When we push, we get push-back, and then emotions escalate, and the conversation veers into the ditch. When one person wins, the other loses. Try to agree on something that helps both sides.
Establish a connection — Make it clear at the start that you want to work together to resolve the problem or to bridge your differences. How the two of you relate to each other will influence how each of you interprets the other person’s input. Be respectful.
Be aware of possible misperceptions — When difficult conversations spin out of control, it’s often because one person hears the words and becomes annoyed, embarrassed, or tense. They think the other person is flat out wrong, has an inflated view of himself, or is using a tactic of intimidation. But assuming that something is a tactic (deliberate behavior) might be a misperception. The other person might come across strong because he lacks self-confidence, is afraid to yield because of other factors, or doesn’t realize he is misinformed.
Try to understand the other person’s position — Her viewpoint might seem unrealistic, perhaps even wacky, but it makes perfect sense to her. Rather than dismiss her position immediately, ask how she arrived at that perspective, and what she thinks the ramifications of her proposal will be. Asking questions not only helps you gain insight but also can induce the other person to think about her own ideas..
Remember that difficult conversations should not be avoided, because that can have prolonged implications. Just avoid the “me against her” mentality, listen carefully and try to understand the other person’s ideas (even if you disagree), ask questions, and have a plan for the next steps.