Are you comfortable being uncomfortable?

My clients say one of the main reasons they avoid difficult conversations is because they are uncomfortable. As humans we like comfort. When life is good, and you feel comfortable your brain releases a series of chemicals that keep you feeling good. When things get uncomfortable and you experience anxiety, fear, and stress your brain releases chemicals that are designed to help you survive a potentially harmful situation. Your heart pounds and your body sweats. Your brain is helping your body fight the enemy or run away.

When you need to have a conversation, you perceive as challenging your brain can shift into the flight or fight mode – if you let it.

To have success we need to embrace the discomfort and know with practice difficult conversations will get easier. Remember back to the first time you tried anything new. It was hard, yet with practice over time you mastered it.

When we make a habit of trying new things our comfort zone expands and newness become less fear inducing and more pleasurable. This is part of the reason I created my online course – Difficult Conversations 3 P’s to Mastery. So you can prepare, practice and perfect the conversation before it takes place in real life. Click here check it out.

The #1 thing I wish someone had warned me about when I became a manager was how to handle disagreement between employees.

The first time one of my direct reports came to me with a complaint about another person in our department, I ignored the issue because I thought it would just go away. It didn’t and pretty soon it spread like wildfire throughout the company. In retrospect I would have helped the complaining employee create a plan to talk with their fellow coworker and resolve the issue.

Over the years as I’ve worked with new managers, they’ve shared a similar frustration. When someone comes to you with a complaint about another person in your department or organization avoid playing intermediary. Unless you are a trained mediator involving yourself as the go between with only make the situation worse.

Here’s what you can do. Listen with the intent to understand by asking questions that start with what or how. A few examples are: what makes you feel that way? How does this impact your ability to get your job done? What will you do to resolve this issue? Then ask them when they will talk to the person. If they say they aren’t or don’t want to help them recognize the only way the problem will be resolved is if they talk to the person. Walk them through the BECAUSE mnemonic I’ve created.

Behavior – start with a statement that describes the behavior

Effect – describe the effect of the behavior

Change – what needs to be different in the future

Actively listen to the other person

Understand – seek to understand the other person

Solution – agree on next steps

Express confidence in their ability to make the change.

Would you like a detailed worksheet? Respond here and its yours.

Avoid Analysis Paralysis

Last Friday afternoon I presented at a virtual conference. At the end of my presentation one of the participants commented in the chat how important it is to avoid analysis paralysis. That is so true! When planning for a difficult conversation there is a danger in over thinking the situation. Once you have your plan in place take immediate action. Call the person and schedule a time to talk. Better yet get the conversation scheduled and then create your plan. This way you will have a deadline to work toward.

To help you avoid analysis paralysis I’ve created a 12-point tip sheet to master the difficult conversation. Want a copy? Just ask me by posting a comment and I’ll send it your way.

Be Curious Instead of Angry

Anger is our natural response to threat. When we are threatened or attached anger is our automatic response and pushes us to fight back and act quickly and forcefully to protect ourselves. The challenge is anger gets in the way of problem solving. When we are angry and engage in conversation, the other person will pick up on our feelings and likely respond in kind.

Let’s say for example a colleague fails to complete their part of the project on time. You are upset. The delay may put the project in jeopardy. You need to have a conversation to resolve the issue and get the project back on track. Before you start the conversation, get out your journal or a piece of paper and write down what about this situation makes you feel angry?
Possible answers include – I will have to work extra hours to make up for their part of the project and I might miss an important family event. This is par for the course; they rarely hold up their end of the bargain and the entire team gets blamed for it! They just can’t seem to follow through on anything.

Write until you aren’t able to think of any other reasons. Get it all down on paper. Now take a few breaths and shift from anger to curiosity. Ask yourself “I wonder what’s happening that is causing their behavior.” In other words there is a reason for their behavior, and you want to find out what it is. You won’t know the answer to this question until you have the conversation. So, you can start the conversation with curiosity. You can begin with “I noticed that you missed the deadline on XYZ project, help me understand what caused that?” Then be quite and listen.

Next time you need speak to a co-worker because you are frustrated by their behavior come from a place of curiosity and let me know how it goes. Post your response here.

#1 Wrong Way to Have a Conversation

In working with my clients to improve their ability to communicate with their team the most common mistake they make is responding with the written word. Imagine you are in the middle of a project and you get a text from someone you supervise asking for your input or advice. Do you quickly respond back with the answer? Or do you schedule a time for a phone call, Zoom or in person meeting? Responding immediately can lead to misunderstanding and confusion.

Not too long ago I had a conversation with a colleague using the direct message feature of LinkedIn. I misread her inquiry and quickly responded with some information, not at all what she was asking about. We went back a fourth with a few messages before I realized what she had asked for in the first place. In the end we had a good laugh about it. Here is what I will do in the future. First avoid responding immediately, second read the request at least twice before responding and third avoid using text when it is possible instead have a verbal conversation.

Yes, even when we are speaking face to face or over the phone or on camera there is a risk for misunderstanding. However, we are more likely to pick up on body language and tone of voice when speaking then by reading the written word. And, to make it worse we often insert emotion and meaning to the words that aren’t there.

Text and e-mail are great documentation tools and poor communication tools. Stop text or e-mail for conversations. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall and talk with the person.

What’s is your focal point?

From time to time we’ve all had to have a conversation we’d rather not have. Maybe it is talking to a direct report about their lack of performance, or we have a difference of opinion with a colleague, or we have to deliver some bad news. It is inevitable these conversations produce anxiety. You worry that the conversation may not go as smoothly as you’d like. You may not reach agreement. Feelings may get hurt. Yes, those things could happen.

In preparing for the conversation try focusing on what could go right, instead of what could go wrong. Picture in your mind’s eye the conversation going smoothly, the issue is resolved to both party’s satisfaction, each person remains calm, you will remain friends. As author Robin Sharma reminds us – What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.

Next time you have to have one of those conversations, take out a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side list all the things that can go wrong on the other list all the things that can go right. Now tear the sheet in half and throw away the list of things that could go wrong. Keep the list of what can go right as your focal point.

Yes! Difficult Conversations Take Time

One of the complaints I get when I teach on the subject of Difficult Conversations – they take too much time! Of course, they take time, but avoidance never solved anything. In the long run it will be worth it. The other day one of my clients told me a story about their VP of Customer Service.

A company had a complaint about one of their service people. Instead of addressing the situation with the customer service rep, the VP simply moved the account to another individual. It was several months before the person found out why the change was made. A few months after that the customer service rep left the company and took several clients with her. Had the manager addressed the issue in the first place, they may have retained the rep and their clients. The VP may have saved a few hours up front but the long-term impact cost both time and money.

One of the things that often stops people from having the conversation is they aren’t sure where to begin. I’ve created a number of opening lines you can use. Just respond below and its yours.

Always Start With A Plan

Imagine you are frustrated with the way a project plan is coming together, it is not what you envisioned. You have a meeting scheduled today with a colleague who is working on the project with you. Instead of thinking through your talking points you start the meeting by sharing your frustration. This can result in making the situation worse AND you risk making an enemy.

Always start with a plan. Think about why you want to talk to them and what you hope to accomplish. Write that down!

Think about why the relationship is important. Start with words that express how you feel. Even if the person is someone who dislike, and you have to work together you can start with – I want to talk to you because we are coworkers and I want the time we spend working together to be the best it can be. Write down your opening line and your taking points. Say those opening and closing lines out loud few times.

Need some ideas for ways to start the conversation? Ask me for my Opening Lines for Difficult Conversations.

Worried about an upcoming conversation?

When it comes to communicating with people at work, communication is hard. The good news, you can choose your hard. You can choose to be angry, frustrated or upset. You can choose to ignore or avoid. You can choose to use foul language. None of those choices will move the conversation forward or get agreement on next steps. Instead choose to be curious, listen for understanding and find areas of agreement. One of the reasons I created my online course was to give people a way to choose to do something hard and be successful.

How much time do you spend worrying about an upcoming conversation? Worry never solved anything. My course gives you a way to stop the worry and have the conversation. You’ll have a framework for success. Is there someone at work you find it hard to talk to? Then this course is what you need. Click the link below and order The 3 P’s to Mastering Difficult Conversations today. Choose your hard, choose to have the conversation.

A Shift In Attitude

A recent client told me the biggest challenge she has when it comes to communicating with her direct reports was their attitude. This isn’t the first time I heard a comment like this from my clients. It is interesting how often we blame the other person for a situation we can control.

Since the only control we have is over our own attitude, my advice to her was to think about how to change her own attitude. As Douglas Stone reminds us “The single most important thing [you can do] is to shift [your] internal stance from “I understand” to “Help me understand.” Everything else follows from that.”

Think about the next conversation you will have with one of your direct reports. Shift your internal dialogue from “I understand” to “Help me understand”, and see what happens.

Post your results here.