Preparing for Difficult Conversations at Work
By Chris Sansone
Every relationship carries with it the potential for great conflict and, in at least equal measure, become the source for abundant creativity and intimacy. Only through having the courage, awareness, and skills to engage in difficult conversations constructively can these take root and thrive. Conditions at work often pose barriers that can make resolution particularly challenging.
Successful Teams Are Proactive
Conflict is normal and essential in relationships and among teams. It is also an inevitable stage to teams becoming high-performing – no team, no relationship, can grow and mature without it. It is also essential to the creative process. Poorly performing teams try to avoid direct conflict. Yet, successful teams are proactive and take conflict as an important ingredient to success. They’re resolute and empower one another to resolve issues. They convert conflict to constructive interaction. Learning increases and connection between members become stronger.
What are the most common difficult conversations that you face?
- With those who report to you
- With the person(s) to whom you report
- Team members
- Clients / patients / customers
Ideally you will reach a point, before holding the conversation, where you are experiencing compassion for yourself and the other. You will also be committed to being open and courageous. In the end, you will reach a mutually gratifying outcome. That said, the most effective approach will be to plan and prepare for your conversation, but don’t try to script it out.
Here are the advance steps to support your preparation:
Begin with self-reflection. Clarify the situation you are facing in writing or verbal dialogue. A particularly helpful tool for accomplishing this is a Quadrinity Check-In. You might find the following sequence helpful.
Body – In this moment as I consider what I want from this conversation, what are the sensations I feel in my body?
Intellect – What are the thoughts I am having as I think about this conversation?
Emotional Self – Right now as I consider what I want from this conversation, emotionally what am I feeling?
Spiritual Self – What message does my Spiritual Self have for me about having this conversation?
Patterns don’t just come at us one by one. They are clustered in “vicious cycles,” where one pattern can lead to another and then another, forming this “familiar” sequence of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. You might find you’re your patterns are being especially ‘triggered’ as you consider the difficult conversation.
Map Your Vicious Cycle
Mapping out a vicious cycle can help you gain greater awareness of the actual patterns, beliefs, and feelings that are active. This can help you identify a major pattern or shame message. Then, ask yourself a series of questions to help identify the patterns that compose the vicious cycle. To begin mapping a vicious cycle, start with identifying the specific situation and any shame belief behind the patterns being triggered. Check out the Vicious Cycle exercise here.
Become Aware of Your Transference
Transference is when we see another as being like our parent, and go into reaction to them. We submit and feel less than our empowered self. Simply put, transference is reacting to someone else in the manner that you reacted to one or both of your parents as a kid.
We may be conscious or unconscious that we are doing this. What triggers transference could be tone of voice, a mannerism, or someone may do or say something that triggers a feeling in us – fear, anger, and/or anxiety.
In transference, we often blame the other for that feeling: “If they hadn’t done or said that thing, or used that tone of voice, I wouldn’t be feeling this way.”
Transference is an extremely common occurrence; it’s part of the human experience. We do it automatically. It often happens with people in authority roles and others whom we perceive to be in authority. It is particularly common at places of work.
You can use the Transference Worksheet found here.
Compassion & Forgiveness for Yourself & the Other
Compassion and forgiveness lands us in our hearts. It often means taking on a practice of self-love and compassion, and holding others with compassion and curiosity.
In order to truly move beyond the patterns that get in the way of connecting with another in the relationship, we must be willing to forgive and let go. When it comes to having a difficult conversation, this means seeking understanding of the other and being open to forgiving them, and forgiving ourselves. It means remembering that all of us have hurts – all of us have suffered – and being curious about what might have happened in the other person’s childhood to cause the patterns they live with today.
Hoffman teacher Chris Sansone has a doctorate in human and organization systems, and holds certifications in coaching, organizational assessments and numerous psychological profiles, including the MBTI.