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Posts Tagged ‘Conflict Management’

Often people think the rules are different for communicating with the boss.  The only difference is that the stakes are higher.  That means you must choose your words carefully.  But the truth is Bev, it is important to choose words with care with everyone to whom we speak. 

Most people who offend or bother us, do so unintentionally – including bosses.  Having worked with hundreds of  managers over the years, I can assure you that they are as concerned about the well being of their people, as they are about results.  

Bosses are human, they know they are imperfect, and like everyone else, they want to grow.  No matter how “difficult” you perceive your boss to be, I can assure you that if their words or actions are creating a negative environment, they would want to know.   

I still recommend using the formula for assertive communication from the previous blog post, and I will add one extra step.  It’s called the “benefit of the doubt” statement.  Here are the 4 steps:

  1. When you…or When people…
  2. I feel…. (because)
  3. I respect the fact that… (or I understand that…) This added step gives them the benefit of the doubt.
  4. State what you want.

Examples:  (use a super calm, neutral voice, neutral face)

“Name, When people yell at me, I feel upset.  I understand that you are angry, and I understand why.  But it’s not necessary to yell at me to get results.” 

“Name, when you tell me to put on “my big girl panties”, I feel offended.  To me that expression is derogatory.  I respect the fact that you meant no harm by it.  My request is that you don’t use that expression with me.”

“Name, may I speak frankly with you?  When you blackberry during our one-on-one’s, I feel bothered.  Because I know that I don’t have your full attention and it’s distracting.  I respect the fact that you are pulled in a million directions with so many priorities on your plate.  However during our one-on-one time, could you please not respond to your blackberry?”

“Name, when you use foul language, I feel bothered.  I am sure that you are not meaning to offend.  However since it does bother me, I am requesting that you refrain from swearing in my presence.”

Now, in the unlikely event the boss responds with a “you’re too sensitive” comment, respond politely with this:  “I don’t see this as an issue of sensitivity, I see this as an issue of respect.”  Then stop talking.  (Tone will be very important here)

So Bev, the key is to be diplomatic, honest, and respectful in all of your communications, and pick your battles wisely (ie don’t point out the boss’ missteps daily.)  Expect that your boss may be surprised, especially if he or she did not intend to offend.  Speak respectfully and the boss will respect what you have to say.  And if the boss has any measure of integrity and character, he or she will thank you for bringing it to their attention.   

Bev, thanks for asking about what so many struggle with.

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Ouch.  Jamie I can see why you are angry about this.  You do need to take a stand with this person privately, and when your anger is in control (ie you have enough residual anger energy to provide you with the courage to have this conversation, but not so much anger that you’ll behave aggressively, which won’t be helpful).

You have two ways you could approach this.  Both require brutal honesty.  One is giving some benefit of the doubt.  It could sound like this:

“Yesterday at our team meeting when you tabled the idea about ….. I was stunned.   This is the same idea that I shared with you over lunch on Tuesday.  I trusted you with my idea and I feel angry that you broke that trust.  Help me to understand this from your point of view (or What happened?).”  And then listen openly for their response. 

If they apologize, accept it graciously (resist all temptation to say that it was OK), and ask them for their ideas on how they will fix this misrepresentation.  If they deny and get defensive and angry then continue to calmly and directly assert your position,eg “Clearly we do not see this from the same point of view.  And I do not accept your explanation (or your choice of conduct).  I have learned that I can no longer trust you with this kind of information in the future.” 

Option two is to speak assertively about their behaviour, without asking for their point of view to send a clear message that it won’t be tolerated.  This option is appropriate if there is history of this type of sabotage behaviour with this person and/or no doubt that it was a blatant and purposeful act.  It could sound like this (calm assertive tone):

“Yesterday at our team meeting, you took credit for an idea that I came up with.  I feel angry and betrayed.  I shared my ideas with you in confidence and you broke that trust.  You need to know that I will no longer trust you with this kind of information in the future.”  (then walk away)

Jamie, this may seem harsh, especially if you are not used to speaking assertively.  However there is nothing inappropriate about firmly and directly confronting inappropriate behaviour.  Unless you take a stand, you will send the message that people can walk all over you.  And in the long run, it will be your credibility that suffers.  (People don’t promote doormats).

Make sure that you do not speak angrily, and certainly do not use derogatory language or name calling, or assign negative intentions (ie “you did that to sabotage me“).  Don’t go there.  Your job is to speak factually about the behaviour that was inappropriate and the effect it had on you.  That’s it.  Use a firm tone and make direct eye contact, with no fidgeting and no aggressive body gestures (like pointing or clenching your fist).  Your body language needs to support your message.  

Jamie, what you haven’t asked about, but I suspect you’re wondering, is how can you get credit for this idea after the fact without looking like the school yard tattle-tale.  This is delicate but can be done.  Privately to your boss (or to whomever it is that you need to set the record straight):  

“Yesterday when (name) tabled the idea about ….I am concerned that she/he missed some key information.  You should know that I have researched the feasibility of this idea and shared the highlights with (name) before our meeting, with the intention of tabling it myself.  Unfortunately that didn’t happen as planned, but I’d like the opportunity to share my full findings with you now.  My intention is not to create waves, or to get credit here.  I simply want to present the idea fully.”  (and then proceed to share the full merits of your idea)

I hope that helps you Jamie…Deb

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Gossip is an insidious form of communication, and left unchecked it can poison a workplace. First of all Lee, make sure that your behaviour isn’t asking for the very behaviour you want stopped.  If you remain present and say nothing when gossip is shared, you unwittingly send the message that you are listening and that you are interested.  If you want it to stop, then you must take a stand. 

Here’s what you could say privately (tone will be very important):
“When you talk about other people in that way, I feel uncomfortable. Please don’t share this kind of information with me again.”

or if you want to cushion the communication a bit:

“When you talk about other people in that way, I feel uncomfortable.  Because I think people should be given the benefit of the doubt.  I respect the fact that you and I have built a trusting relationship and I’d like that to continue.  However please don’t share gossip with me in the future.”

or:
“It’s my policy not to gossip, and this sounds like gossip to me. I’m going to exit myself now.”   (then leave)

or if you are in a group meeting:
“It’s my policy not to talk about other people when they are not in the room to defend themselves. Let me know when this conversation is over and I will rejoin the meeting.”  (then get up and leave)

When you are speaking, make sure your tone is assertive and neutral.  In other words, speak firmly but be very careful not to come across as hostile or accusatory or judgemental in your tone.   This isn’t about judging, this is about asserting your rights about how people behave in your presence.  

And most importantly, make sure you live up to your own no-gossip policy.  When we take a stand, we hold ourselves accountable to a higher standard.  And that means our behaviour will be scrutinized.   Slip once, and your credibility is damaged.

Thanks for your question Lee …Deb

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Sarah it’s not for me or anyone to judge the feelings you have about an issue.  In fact, I don’t want you to let anyone talk you out of your feelings.   If you feel emotion (including anger) because someone has done something or said something that is bothersome to you, then that is not something to ignore or dismiss. 

Anger is a healthy, human emotion.  Unfortunately too many of us received negative messages about anger growing up.  Things like:  “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”  or “Wipe that angry (grumpy, irritable…) look off your face.”  Many of us were raised with the idea that anger is bad, and even looking angry was unacceptable.  What an unhealthy message to send children!  Wouldn’t it be better for educators and parents to teach that anger is natural.  That we will feel angry at times.  And when you do, here are some appropriate ways to express it.

Whatever emotion you feel Sarah is an alert.  It is a warning signal telling you that somebody is stamping on your rights, or your self esteem, or you have a need that is not being met.   And it doesn’t matter what end of the spectrum your emotion falls (ie passive personalities tend to cry when upset, and aggressive personalities tend to yell).  Regardless of how it is expressed, the source is the same. 

Now, it is your responsibility to be conscious of your patterns of emotion so that you can assess the effects in your life.  What I mean is if many people from a variety of different sources are telling you that your emotion surfaces too often and too frequently, then you have a responsibility to examine that further.    Examine the triggers, the frequency, the sources.  Get intimately familiar with your “buttons”.  In fact, I recommend that you list them.   When you know your triggers, you put yourself in a position of control, versus simply “reacting” every time someone unwittingly pushes your “hot button”. 

For example:  If one of your hot buttons is being called a certain name, and you are prepared for that trigger, the next time someone calls you that name, you can instantly activate an interior monologue that tells you to stay composed.   Your heart will still race and you will still get an adrenaline surge, but you will be able to manage yourself through it. 

And the bonus is, that controlled anger energy you feel is going to give you the courage to assert yourself in the moment.  It might sound like: “When you call me that name, I feel angry, because to me that name is offensive and derogatory.  Do not refer to me by that name again.”  ( Use a calm assertive voice, then stop talking). 

If they respond with a “you are too sensitive” comment.  Look them directly in the eye and calmly state:  “I don’t see this as an issue of sensitivity, I see this as an issue of respect.” 

I hope that helps you Sarah.  I’m sending you all good wishes…Deb

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What a great question Kelly!  Defensiveness is a predictable problem during conflict conversations, and it’s the number two reason why we are so reluctant to deal with issues (fear of making someone angry is number one).

While we can never guarantee someone’s response, there are definitely things you can do to lesson the likelihood of defensiveness.  Here are my recommendations:

  1. Do not speak in generalities.   Words like always and never instantly surface defensiveness.  If you were to say “You are always late”, or “You never listen to me”, you can expect an immediate and defensive rebuttal.  Even if you are 99% right, this person will immediately search for evidence to disprove your claim.  They will come up with specific examples to contradict your accusation.   And you’ll end up in a back and forth debate and on the slippery slope to lose-lose.  Omit the words always and never in these conversations.
  2. Speak in the facts.  For example, in a lateness issue you might say “This is the third time this week that you returned late from your break.  On Monday you were 11 minutes late, yesterday it was 6 minutes, and today it was 9 minutes.”  Those are facts.   Another example, “Yesterday at our team meeting, you interrupted my presentation three times.”  Facts don’t usually get disputed. 
  3. Watch your tone.  When you are sharing “the facts”, make sure your tone is not hostile or aggressive or accusatory.  Remember facts are neutral, so as you state the facts your voice needs to be calm and neutral also.  If you are angry, you may need to wait a short period for your anger to lessen before you decide to broach the subject.  
  4. Separate issues from personalities.  In other words, focus on the behaviour, not the person.  Figure out exactly what that person is saying or doing that is bothersome to you.  Do not label the person.  Words like thoughtless, inconsiderate, rude, stupid, slow, careless,procrastinator, selfish, loudmouth, etc are all labels and will guarantee a defensive response.  There is no place for them.  Behaviour is your target.
  5. Know in advance what you want.  Before you can ask someone to change their behaviour, you need to know what you want from them.  In other words, you must be able to clearly state your expectations.  If you are foggy about it, they won’t get it.  Be clear.  And when you are asserting your request (or your requirement), use a calm but firm voice.  
  6. Pick an appropriate time and place.  These should be private conversations.  Respect the dignity of the other person.  Consider timing also.
  7. Listen.  Give the person the opportunity to offer their point of view.   Make sure you don’t get defensive yourself.  Listen with the intention of really trying to understand their side of this issue.  Ask them for their ideas on how they will fix the problem.  Be open to what they have to say. 

Remember, you cannot control the reactions of the other person.  The best we can do in conversation is manage ourselves.   Your only responsibility is to be accurate, clear, open, and respectful.   So let go of any attachment you have to how they may respond.  Proceed knowing that you have the right to assert what you think, need, feel, and want.   And remember the same is true of others when we are on the receiving end of these conversations. 

Hope that helps Kelly.

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