Primary Blog/Communication & Public Speaking/Navigating Tough Conversations at Work

Navigating Tough Conversations at Work

Friday, May 05, 2023

If you are like most people, you have probably experienced difficult conversations in the workplace when you felt extreme pressure from conflicting views while trying to communicate within an important professional relationship. This could be with your higher ups, your executive team member, your manager, or your client. The feelings that arise might leave you wondering what to do or say in that situation.

Challenging conversations can certainly be demoralizing, distracting and definitely time consuming. If you notice this form of conversation is happening more frequently than you want to endure, then the following strategies could enable you to create a win-win scenario instead of simply enduring a frustrating confrontation. And beyond that, to gain confidence and a belief in yourself that you can handle these tough conversations with professionalism.

The word “confrontational” is a projection of a label. Every individual in a conversation without exception has their own set of values. What you value will be different from what your higher-ups value, and what members of your team value. Values are unique to each individual much like a fingerprint.

Every individual you have a conversation with will act, speak, and decide according to what they perceive to be their most important set of values. It will be based upon whether their action, spoken words, or decision will fulfill what is important to them.

When it comes to characterizing a conversation as “confrontational,” that simply means the person conversing with you does not say things that are supportive or cooperative to your values. While conversations that are supportive and align with your own values are seen as a pleasant experience, by contrast if what someone says challenges you or your own set of values, you will naturally label that as a confrontation.

Step 1: Remove Your Charge

The moment you label the conversation as confrontational, you tend to be at the height of your emotional state. In that moment of realizing the person we are speaking with does not share our perspective, many feelings can surface. We may feel offended, belittled, patronized, or even insulted.

It’s a natural instinct to be protective or defensive by responding immediately due to strong feelings. However, if you respond during the height of emotion, this is the “zone of regret” which means the tendency to say things you may regret later is at the highest. The things we say when emotions are strongest are not as rationally thought out as they could have been, therefore it’s critical to pause.

Instead of responding immediately, calm your emotions. Take a step back and try asking equity-inducing questions such as:

  • What was the actual cause of the argument?
  • What was the real argument from the other side?

It is in this moment that you have an opportunity to recognize the highest values of the other. During this moment, you also have a chance for productive self-reflection. The questions you might ask yourself are:

  • ​How is this challenge benefiting me?
  • How has this interaction presented me with a chance to grow?
  • How may this conversation actually be beneficial to me?

If you cannot see how the interaction with them is helping you fulfill your highest values, you will want to avoid conflict or argue continually. A conversation is a neutral event; it only appears confrontational or toxic based on perceptions with respects to your own values.

Maybe the conversation has underscored a way that you can be more independent from your supervisors. Or perhaps the confrontation has allowed you to more clearly articulate your ideas. Maybe in the moment, you have been able to become more grounded in the ideas that you truly believe in. If you don’t take time to recognize these things, you will be missing the benefits of the conversation you are in. Instead of projecting the conversation immediately as “confrontational,” understand your own involvement and reflect on the opportunities arising from it.

Step 2: Refocus Your Conditions

If you’re like most people, you have probably set the conditions for what constitutes a productive conversation. Most likely the conditions are that there has to be complete agreement with what you are sharing, that they have to at least see it from your perspective, and so on. If you approach a conversation with the stance of “They must hear me out” or “They have to respect me for my opinion,” it necessarily brings about the belief that a productive conversation is one where the other person supports your ideas or agrees with you.

Since your beliefs create your outcomes, it would be wise to examine the unconscious conditions you set for yourself in the conversation. As you refocus your conditions, the key is to return to the principle that in a conversation, each individual is committed to fulfilling their own values; and that the hierarchy of values of each person is unique. The moment you label a conversation as confrontational, the same thing is happening in the reverse where the person you are interacting with is labeling it the same way.

When this happens, both parties begin labeling the challenges to their values as oppositional.

Understand that you cannot expect others to think, work, or live according to your values and not their own. If you do have this expectation, you will soon begin to feel betrayed by how they are not meeting your expectations. On the flip side, it is also sustainable for you to think, work, or live according to another person’s values.

Think about what your contribution is to the conflict. What conditions have you set that are causing the conversation to be difficult? Since you can only control your perspectives and your own actions, refocus your conditions. This means you can choose to go on the other person’s side of the table and understand what is important to them based on their values. In this moment, you can choose to put your agenda aside, and help the other person see how your ideas and recommendations are going to fulfill what is important to them.

Step 3: Reconstruct Your Course

If you’ve been able to refocus your conditions, you will now reach a state of equity and fair exchange, and you will be able to communicate effectively no matter how different the other person’s opinions are from your own.

This final step is to reconstruct your course. Here, you create a sustainable path forward, where both parties are able to have their values met. You can remain authentic to your values, as well as understanding what their values are. In this way, you are taking part in a collaborative effort toward a common objective that is meaningful.

This collaborative effort does not necessarily mean you actually join forces or work together on a project. It could just mean you create a minimal viable outcome from the conversation. It could mean that there is a collaboration on which to move forward. If there is a future collaboration, it is important to continuously communicate that you recognize and take into account what the other person values most.

Out of the new path forward that you create, starting from your perspective shift on what a confrontation really is, you can create a meaningful conversation where both parties benefit. The confrontation isn’t about changing anyone’s values; it’s about refocusing on a meaningful objective where you appreciate each other’s values. Approaching confrontational conversations at work this way will give you a newfound confidence to create a more lasting relationship dynamic where you both feel heard and appreciated.

If you’d love to learn how to put the principles covered in this blog into action, join me in my executive coaching program where I’ll introduce you to a powerful self- and career-development process.

This is an implementation-to-results program for growth-oriented executives who seek greater career fulfillment through becoming a more skilled version of themselves. It is designed to help you master your mind, develop deeper insights, elevate your communication skills, and become inspired in your career growth.

If you’d love to find out how my methodology can help you with your career goals, apply HEREfor an opportunity to work with me.

 © Mastery Insights Inc.  All Rights Reserved

© Mastery Insights Inc. All Rights Reserved