3 Tips for Tackling Tough Conversations with Colleagues

August 31st, 2017

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Fictional network executive Jack Donaghy is a master of crucial conversation. When it comes to firing underlings, confronting colleagues and challenging the status quo, the “30 Rock” boss has a sink-or-swim mindset: “Get out there, build the house, add on the pool and throw yourself into the deep end.”

But Donaghy reacts much differently when he finds himself on the receiving end of such a conversation. When Jerry Seinfeld unexpectedly shows up at 30 Rock to confront Donaghy about his SeinfeldVision plan, the otherwise bold boss cowers and hides.

That’s because difficult as it is to plunge head-first into a sensitive, emotionally charged, or high-stakes conversation, being thrown into one without warning is a different experience entirely.

Should you find yourself in such precarious waters at work, consider these expert tips from The Crucial Skills Blog on how to be on the receiving end of a crucial conversation:

1. Don’t expect the other person to crucially converse perfectly. Sometimes the person initiating the conversation inadvertently says something hurtful, rude or disrespectful. “When we stop expecting people to share their meaning perfectly, we see their poorly delivered messages as a lack of skill rather than poor intent,” blog author Emily Hoffman writes. “This reduces our defensiveness because suddenly it’s not about me anymore, but about them.”

2. Take time to prepare and time to respond. A crucial conversation often leaves the recipient feeling vulnerable and unprepared. If you don’t feel ready to respond after listening intently to what the person is saying, ask for a time-out in the conversation.

Hoffman recommends saying something like: “I can tell this is really important to you and I want to hear what you have to say. I also really want to think about it before I respond, to make sure I have taken the time to consider everything you are saying. So, I’d like to listen carefully to what you have to say and then schedule a time for tomorrow when I can come back with my thoughts.”

3. Get clear on your intent in receiving the message. Look for what is true in the message, regardless of how it is conveyed. Why do you want to listen to this message? How can you use the information to improve?

If you feel yourself getting defensive, Hoffman suggests taking a step back and challenging your perception of the other person’s intent in bringing up the subject.

“Sometimes you can do this internally, talking it through in your head, creating the best possible interpretation of the other person’s intent. And sometimes it helps to do it out loud,” she writes.

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