As a kid, the adults around you may have taught you this: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Although it’s intended to teach cooperation and empathy, a child’s first lesson for handling tough situations is to sweeten or stifle their communication. As a result, 8-year olds grow into 18-year old who lack skills for engaging in difficult conversations in ways that are authentic and productive.
4 unproductive behaviors
Difficult conversations are unavoidable in the workplace. Managers, employees, and clients are required to give feedback, but most do so unskillfully, or in a way that makes them “easy to work with” rather than delivering real results. Here are 4 unproductive behaviors:
Indirect communication, i.e., beating when making a request or giving feedback.
Inauthenticity, i.e., forcing a “compliment sandwich”.
Defensive or accusatory language, i.e., feedback is given unskillfully and interpreted negatively by the receiver.
Avoidance, i.e., not addressing difficult issues like under performance.
If a person has bad experiences whenever they have a difficult conversation, they continue avoiding or delivering unskillfully. No progress is made and their career growth is stunted.
A “too nice” culture shrinks the bottom line
When a company culture is “too nice,” they value politeness over results. That leads to a vicious cycle that affects performance and dwindles the bottom line. First, the talent pulls extra weight for the poor performers. Demoralized and frustrated, the top talent leaves. The company is left with the poor performers, who are still under-performing because no one has addressed the issues. Then the productivity drops they continue to under perform and the company’s output is affected. Trust wears away between employees and management, who engage in inauthentic behaviors. And profits shrink as the vicious cycle continues.
Skills can change everything
Most people don’t have bad intentions, just bad behaviors. The good news is that anyone can learn how to engage in difficult conversations productively. This is what it takes to learn new skills:
Awareness: Everyone must understand their behaviors so that they can effectively manage their responses.
Tools: With simple tools, people will be equipped to engage in difficult conversations effectively.
Safety: People must trust the situation and themselves to overcome the fear of repercussion.
Courage: They need the strength to unlearn old behaviors and divert into uncertainty to learn something new.
In our introductory workshop, The Art of Productive Conflict, you can get insight on how to gain these skills. Or, take a courageous step forward and contact us today to coach your team with these skill-sets:
Communicate with a difficult person or group
Address a highly charged issue
Soften deeply entrenched points of view
Handle challenging questions
Demonstrate good listening – whether in conflict or not
Sensitize oneself to another’s perspective
Defuse hostility when possible
Make a compelling and persuasive case when necessary
Keep conversations positive and forward-moving
You take away simple tools that can be applied immediately. With continual practice, individuals and organizations are transformed. You might even learn to love difficult conversations because that’s when you know you’re growing.
What others say
"Our challenge: deepen the capability of our people to influence stakeholders in times of resistance and conflict. The learning experience we delivered involved a blend of instruction, peer discussion, practice, and one-on-one coaching. Participants learned ways to be empathetic and assertive at the same time." - Demitra, Senior Manager, Salesforce
Take a courageous step forward
Join the Art of Productive Conflict workshop at General Assembly. See upcoming classes here.