Many people, at some point in their working lives, have to have a difficult conversation with someone. For instance you might want to talk to a peer about a personal issue, such as personal hygiene or how they talk about their personal problems at work.
Very often people are highly anxious, understandably so, about having this conversation. They then either avoid it for so long that when they do tackle it it comes as a complete shock to the other party, or they rush at it like a bull in a china shop just to get it over with. Here are some tips to help produce a good result:
1.Be clear what you are trying to achieve
For instance you might want an agreement that they cut their nails when you are away from the shared desk, and clear up the clippings before you get back! Or that they take private calls in the hallway, or that they use a deodorant for work.
2.Be clear what you are listening for
You need to stay alert to the first signs that you have made your point and they have agreed to behave differently, and be prepared to switch the conversation quickly to something else otherwise you run the risk of ‘going on’ and accidentally producing a new source of conflict.
3.Know your good reasons for saying something
It really helps us reduce our anxiety if we know how what we want to do aligns with our values. If someone has poor personal hygiene and it means people don’t want to be near them or interact with them, then you are being brave and helpful to mention it to them. Don’t expect an immediate bouquet though!
4.Give thought to when you say something
Personal things are usually best approached in a private space, away from an audience.
5.Get their agreement to the conversation
It’s a good idea to seek initial permission. ‘I’d really like to tell you about something that I think is causing you problems and which I’m not sure you are aware of. Are you OK for me to do that?’ Once they have said yes they can hardly not listen. And if they say ‘No’ then back off. Curiosity may well get the better of them a little later!
Once you have named the issue, to give the person a chance to give their view. We can’t always predict how people will react it can range from ‘I know, it’s a medical condition and I can’t do anything about it, I’ve tried everything and now I’m really embarrassed and I can’t face going back into the office’ to ‘Really, are you sure? Well I never, what do you use?’
By considering these points before embarking on a difficult conversation you can reduce your own anxiety and help to generate a positive and productive outcome for all parties involved.
Sarah Lewis M.Sc. C.Psychol is an associated fellow of the British Psychological Society and a principal member of the Association of Business Psychologists. She is an acknowledged Appreciative Inquiry expert, a regular conference presenter and a published author, including Positive Psychology at Work (Wiley) and Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management (KoganPage). Sarah specialises in working with organisations to co-create organisational change using methodologies such as Appreciative Inquiry, and the practical application of positive psychology.
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