September 28, 2021

Having the conversation you’ve been avoiding at work

As you’re reading this, 70 percent of people are avoiding a conversation at work. We’ve all done it, but the conversations we’d rather avoid are often the most important ones to have. Whatever your “elephant in the office” may be, taking action to navigate the situation and open up a direct line of communication can create a better working environment for everyone. 

Why do we avoid some conversations more than others?

There’s no disputing that some conversations are just more daunting than others. But why is that? The conversations that people avoid the most are those that call for vulnerability. These include conversations where you have to give critical feedback, tell someone they hurt or offended you, or ask for help.

You may avoid these conversations because you either fear a negative outcome or no outcome at all. For example, you may be worried that the other person will get defensive, dislike you, or even retaliate. Or, you may wonder if the conversation is worth the effort. You might tell yourself that nothing will change or that the other person will never listen.

Tough” conversations are often necessary conversations.

Tough conversations may be the ones you want to avoid at all costs, but they’re often the most necessary, because they open the possibility of growth, change, and resolution. You could gain a new perspective or a broader context to understand the situation. You might acquire additional data that you can use to create an action plan. The conversation could also encourage you to take the first steps towards resolving an issue.

Sometimes these narratives lead us to label a conversation as “difficult,” when we don’t really know if that’s the case — hence the quotation marks we’ll use around “tough” throughout this article.

How to approach “tough” conversations

Not sure how to get started with a “difficult” conversation that you know you have to have? These are some tips on how to set yourself up for the best possible outcome.

Assemble your talking points.

It’s always best to go into any prepared. Before you sit down with the other person, identify how you feel about the situation. What are your emotions? Do you feel hurt? Disappointed? Manipulated? Then think about the facts behind your emotions. What has the other person done to contribute to you feeling that way? Finally, think about what your goals are for the conversation. Is it so you can vent, make the other person aware of something they are doing, or create an action plan?

Try to take the other person’s perspective.

A successful conversation has to go two ways, so it’s in your best interest to consider where the other person may be coming from. Taking the other person’s perspective can have several benefits. First, it’s strategic: it allows you to anticipate the direction the conversation may go in. Second, it’s altruistic because it gives the other person the benefit of the doubt and room for empathy. Third, it’s self-protective because it can prepare you for the worst, and take out some of the potential emotional sting.

Set a place and time.

Setting a specific time and place for the conversation is essential because it allows the other person to enter the interaction with the right mindset. If you spring a “tough” conversation on someone without warning, they may get defensive or respond out of fear, anger, or shock. However, if you make them aware of the meeting ahead of time, you give them time to prepare and come to the table with clearly laid out thoughts and goals for what they want to achieve — just like you’ll have done for yourself.

Principles to guide the conversation

When you finally sit down for a difficult conversation, you want to make sure that the lines of communication stay open so that you can arrive at the best possible outcome for both parties. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Enter the conversation from a place of curiosity. Aim to understand the other person’s point of view. Ask questions and make sure you are listening to the other person.
  • Openness is important. Acknowledge the other person’s emotions. Be aware of any attempts they may be making to thwart the conversation. Admit to the fact that you don’t know the whole story.
  • Respect is also paramount. Be willing to understand the other person’s perspective. Understand that you both have valid perspectives, even if. theydiffer in crucial ways, and try to find common ground.

Whatever your “elephant in the office” may be—whether it’s harsh feedback, a strained working relationship, needs that aren’t being met, or something else—there are constructive ways to address it. You’ll probably find that once you’ve tackled that discussion, you’ll wonder why you put it off for so long in the first place. 

Learn more by watching our webinar Elephant in the Office, presented by Bravely Pro Debra Turner Bailey.

You may need to log into your Bravely account to access the recording at this link.

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