Managing Difficult Conversations

Managing Difficult Conversations

Workplace conflicts are virtually unavoidable and some leaders choose to approach situations of conflict with logic: if a team member isn’t pulling his weight, get proof and take note of the way his behaviour breaches company policy.

While logic is an important aspect of conflict resolution, emotions cannot be ignored. When you suppress your feelings, you’re likely to express your emotions in unintended ways instead, either sarcastically or in a completely different context. This is what psychologists call “emotional leakage”.

It’s important to come up with a plan based on the principles of emotional intelligence, which acknowledges both logic and emotion.

First, schedule a meeting away from the office, or at least in an informal setting, to encourage open conversation. Recognise the emotions at work in the situation. You may feel frustrated, however you also need to consider the emotions of the other person who may be feeling scared and threatened at being summoned for a meeting.

Second, assess the impact of those emotions on your behaviour and that of the other person. Everyday negative emotions help us stay analytical and task-focused, but they can result in criticism and nitpicking. Positive emotions support brainstorming and creativity but need to be reined in if we’re to remain realistic and on track. Introducing positivity into the discussion at the outset will help the other person to listen, relax, and engage in problem solving. Asking open-ended questions will help you to understand what is happening for the other person. “How are you feeling about …?” and “What would you like to see happening here?”

Manage the emotions of the situation by deploying strategies that will lead you to your objective. If the other person suggests overly optimistic goals, praise their ingenuity and offer a couple of more realistic ones. The other person will feel that they have been heard and treated fairly and together you can come up with a plan of action.

Emotions aren’t just the result of a workplace conflict – frequently they are the conflict and they need to be acknowledged and handled with sensitivity.

Are you employing emotional intelligence in your employee feedback?

Adapted from an article by Susan David, Harvard Business Review

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