How to Have Tough Conversations at Work

How to Have Tough Conversations at Work - Style Nine to Five

Is something bothering you at work that you just can’t seem to shake? An issue with your supervisor or one of your colleagues? Handling conflict in the workplace can seem like a difficult mountain to climb but it doesn’t have to be! When discussing an issue in the workplace it is important that you always keep the main source of tension top of mind and that you’re consciously respectful of your co-worker or employee, as they play an important role in the company. Listed below are a few ways to ensure tensions in the workplace are not only resolved but also handled in a civil and dignified way.

Set Up a Designated Discussion Time

It is important to have ample time to discuss the issue at hand. Whether it is something personal pertaining to the way in which you are being treated or toxicity that you see brewing in the workplace, having the appropriate space and time to discuss the issue at hand is incredibly important. This demonstrates to your employer or colleague that this is serious and something you have been thinking about, and isn’t just a spur of the moment reaction. By setting up a specific meeting time to discuss your concerns, it also gives you some time to prepare as well as think of specific scenarios and follow up questions they may ask you.

Address One Issue at a Time

As mentioned above, it is important to come in prepared with what you would like to address and not be “on the attack.” Often, when in a situation with heightened emotions, our thoughts can get lost in the heat of the moment. Come into the meeting with a few notes on where you would like to take the direction of the meeting.

This strategy also enables you to be direct and clear about what this issue at hand is. Perhaps as an employee you feel unseen in meetings and like your ideas are not valued when you pitch them, but when pitched by another employee they are validated and utilized for a campaign, as an example. For your meeting, come prepared with three examples when you felt this way. This way you are able to present a workplace pattern rather than speaking from emotion. Although your feeling should be validated regardless, examples help create a clear image but and hopefully prevent the issue from repeating itself. 

It is also important to keep in mind not to bring things up from the past that have nothing to do with the issue you’re addressing. For example, to continue with the example from above about not feeling seen or heard by your employer, bringing up a personal issue with another employee before this issue is resolved is not beneficial as it distracts from the initial issue at hand. Also, by focusing on one issue it stresses its importance to you. 

Only Speak About Your Own Experience

It is important to keep yourself in the center of the conversation and not speak about other employees’ feelings. Although other employees may speak to you about an issue or echo your thoughts, it is so important that you not bring them into the conversation, as they can speak for themselves and they may have a change of heart as to where they stand on the issue. In addition, this only broadens the scope of the issue when the purpose of the meeting was to talk about your own needs as an employee.

A great strategy to consciously keep yourself top of mind is to use “I” statements. An example of this is, “I feel unseen and heard in meetings,” not “You never call on me and it makes me feel angry”. By using “I” statements you are keeping the dialogue open rather than attacking the other person and putting them on the defense. When playing the blame game, you and the other party will ultimately end up defending yourselves rather than resolving anything. 

Actively Listening

Keeping the dialogue open and honest leads to an effective meeting. After you have said your piece it is important to actively listen to the other person. This means enabling them to speak their piece uninterrupted and paying attention to non-verbal cues. Examples of non-verbal cues include: are their arms crossed? Are they maintaining eye contact?

These non-verbal cues will give you some insight into how open they are to the conversation. If your boss is speaking to you with their arms crossed this may mean they are closed off to the conversation or disagree with something you have said.

It’s important to show respect and empathy, especially if you are the boss or supervisor in this situation. An employee is coming to you because they care, and they want the space to be as productive as possible and they feel like they are unable to be the best version of themselves in the environment they are currently in. As a manager, it is important when they are speaking to you that you maintain eye contact and nod in agreement as a form of validation so employees feel heard.

Having difficult conversations at work can seem scary, but they are often necessary. Being brave enough to speak your mind in a respectful way is so important. Handling conflict in the workplace is an important skill to have as this may happen again and you want to be equipped with the appropriate plan to handle it professionally and have issue resolved.

Looking for sage career advice but not sure where to turn? Try Style Nine to Five’s Virtual Career Meeting offering. The offering includes a one hour meeting with Style Nine to Five Founder Christie Lohr where you will be able to plan out your next steps in your career, receive insight on your LinkedIn Profile, resume and cover letter.

Demetra Maragos – Demetra is a Master of Arts candidate at New York University, who loves thinking outside of conventional lines to combine her passions of everything culture, fashion and lifestyle.

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