by Paula Quinsee, Relationship Expert
Difficult conversations are an inevitable part of the workplace, however many of us have had bad experiences with these kind of conversations in the past. The key is to learn how to handle them in a way that produces a positive outcome for all involved.
Many organizations claim to have an "open" environment or culture where employees are encouraged to participate in dialogue, being able to say what is on their minds, resolve conflict, or speak up but we rarely see businesses using dialogue transformationally — to dissolve long-standing stereotypes, unite people in a common purpose, inspire fresh thinking and amplify creativity. It's a rare skill.
So why exactly are these tough dialogues so rare? The truth is, dialogue is interpersonally tough and unfamiliar — only a handful of people do it well. Some personalities will find opening up to other viewpoints challenging, and may struggle with making observations, not demands. Some will find the act of synthesizing conflicting opinions psychologically disconcerting. And others will resist giving constructive feedback. Against this backdrop, it is easy to see how organizations might pay lip service to dialogue without really creating the conditions for it to work effectively.
Just as we have the S.M.A.R.T principles for goal setting, we can apply similar S.M.A.R.T principles to our relationships (both personal and professional):
S - Solution Orientated
Problem-focused thinking does not help us at all to solve difficult situations, which is especially necessary in times where one must find quick solutions to an upcoming problem. Furthermore, the problem focused approach can have negative effects on one’s motivation and even shut people down. The very first step to approach problems with solution focused thinking is to avoid questions that mainly focus on the reason or the problem in general but rather instead aim to find a win-win for your challenges and obstacles. This fosters a positive mind-set and approach that says, 'hey we're on the same side here'. For every problem there is a solution, we just need to be willing to find it.
Using mindfulness during difficult conversations gives us the opportunity to override our body’s natural flight or fight responses so that we can be calmer and more focused. This state of heightened self-awareness and conscious approach allows us to become more aware of what is causing our own reactivity and emotions as well as that of the other person or situation. Being aware of our reactivity and what the causes are, enables us to self-regulate to a more productive state and have a better interaction. Being mindful of your thoughts, actions and behaviours is essential to cultivating healthy relationships by being aware of how you are showing up and how you are co-creating your relationships (people only react to what they are experiencing).
A - Accountable
To hold oneself accountable means to own your feelings while taking responsibility for your contribution to the relationship - good and bad (i.e. your actions, thoughts and behaviour). Accountability is what helps us find and implement solutions. It’s also important to remember that every single one of us is equally accountable and responsible for keeping the relationship space healthy and safe.
Respect each other on a human being level first and foremost, before age, gender, sexuality, culture, race, job title because that is what we are - human beings. Honour your personal brand and how you conduct yourself especially in difficult conversations as this will have an impact on your credibility and the perceptions people will have of you.
If the issue you’re raising is one of professional conduct, it becomes especially important to maintain your own professionalism during the conversation. Avoid any unprofessional behaviour, and give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Even if you feel disrespected, it is not a licence to be disrespectful – whether the person in question is present or not. Also remember you will most likely need to continue working together after this conversation so make sure you resolve the issue in such a way as to maintain your professional relationship going forward too.
T – Time
Taking the time to know our colleagues on a human level is a key factor of relationship building. If we don't make time for our relationships in order to build them, over time we won't have relationships. That doesn't mean you are going to be BFFs with everyone but you can still be respectful, civil and courteous. Take time out to have a chat with colleagues, especially the ones you don't interact with all that often. When people know you care, they are bound to reciprocate which can only improve and enhance the dynamics of the relationship, team and organisation as a whole. When we have good relationships (personal and professional) we are up to 7x more engaged, creative and innovative according to this Harvard/Gallup article.
With these relationship principles in place, we create a space that enables those Tough Dialogues to take place on issues such as racism, gender imbalance, toxic teams, bullying or ageism. There are always sensitive conversations that embody these topics and as a result are often swept under the organisational carpet, and in most cases, the expertise to successfully deal with such ‘tough’ issues does not necessarily reside within the organisation.
Ignoring these tough dialogues leads to missed opportunities and can even incur huge losses to the organisation and bottom line. In order to have these Tough Dialogues, we need to be willing to put our prejudices aside and bring humanity to the forefront of everything we do.
Executives and their teams are charged with making momentous decisions that will shape the destiny of their organisations and impact, in some cases, thousands or even millions of people from enhancing the ability to cope during critical situations through to boosting productivity, a focus on mentally healthy practices within the workplace drives positive results across all departments.
Paula Quinsee is a Relationship Expert, Tedx speaker and author of Embracing Conflict. She works with individuals and organisations to cultivate healthy relationships in both their personal and professional arenas by focusing on personal growth and development, emotional skills, behaviour profiling and more. Go to www.paulaquinsee.com for more info.
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