Building Working Relationships – Part 1: How to Have Difficult Conversations
There are times when a difficult conversation at work is necessary but how do you have an effective discussion and not create conflict?
In our previous blog, Building Working Relationships Part 1, we looked at ways to encourage healthy communication when delivering specific information which may be difficult for the other party to hear.
In part 2 we focus on ‘Courageous conversations’ - what they are, how they differ from ‘difficult conversations’ and why they can also be an important part of building a positive working environment.
What is a courageous conversation?
Unlike a difficult conversation, a courageous conversation tends to refer to a group discussion around a topic which may be uncomfortable to talk about. In fact, often it can be a subject that not so long ago would be exactly the sort of thing we were advised not to discuss in the workplace, such as ethnicity, gender equality or sexual orientation. While these sorts of topics still need to be handled delicately, companies are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of promoting courageous conversations as part of their diversity and inclusion programmes.
Why have courageous conversations?
The purpose of discussing these challenging and sometimes uncomfortable subjects is to encourage healthy, open communication. It offers an opportunity to create positive work relationships and highlight any barriers that make work-life integration hard for many individuals who feel that they can’t bring their authentic self to work.
For employees, being ‘courageous’ by taking part in these types of discussions allows individuals to share differing experiences and perspectives gained from their varied backgrounds which helps to promote inclusion and raise awareness and understanding of issues which may affect their experience of work and life, differently to others.
These types of discussions can benefit organisations greatly too in terms of recruitment and retention. Recent research by Deloitte showed that 80% of people said that inclusion is important when choosing an employer and 39% said they would leave their current organisation for a more inclusive one (with 30% of millennials indicating that they had already done this!).
How to have Courageous Conversations:
Courageous conversations can be highly emotive as participants may feel embarrassed, awkward or uncomfortable. It is advisable to have someone to facilitate the conversation to ensure that it doesn’t become stressful or upsetting for anyone taking part.
It is important that participants feel that they can speak openly in a safe space in order to have an honest and productive discussion.
If you are organising a conversation of this nature, it is important to judge the state of the team and get the timing right. Keep in mind any potential risks where there might be existing conflict within the team, be it open or underlying, as it could increase difficulties when the meeting is over. It may be that these issues will need to be addressed before a courageous conversation takes place.
Also be aware of whether you are making the discussion voluntary or compulsory. If voluntary, some people might opt out, potentially creating a split in the team which could be counter-productive to having the conversation in the first place. However, if compulsory, some people may feel pressured into participating which will be equally unproductive and might cause them to be less cooperative during the discussion.
It is often best to request that all team members attend but give them plenty of advanced notice in order to prepare for the discussion and allow time to work through any other issues between participants beforehand where possible.
Julie Musilek, Director of Product Marketing at Great Place to Work, has created a useful resource in her recent article on the subject which sets out a suggested plan to follow for how to lead successful courageous conversations in the office.
If you are a participant, you may find the following tips useful to keep in mind:
Be prepared - Have an idea of what you would like to achieve from of the conversation and what you might want to contribute.
Be open and honest - Approach the conversation with an open mind, speak truthfully and reward others for doing the same with positive responses which offer reassurance that their experiences are valued.
Ask appropriate questions - If there is something you don’t understand don’t be afraid to ask questions in a sensitive manner and be prepared to learn or change the way you think about something.
Listen Actively - Try to avoid distractions and show respect and interest when others are speaking. Proactively acknowledge people’s contributions to the discussion, recognise differences and always assume people are speaking with good intent.
Allow yourself to be uncomfortable - Try to view situations from the perspective of others and challenge yourself to think differently from your normal or automatic reaction. View it as an opportunity to grow as an individual.
Show courage beyond the conversation – Take the knowledge you have gained during the discussion and try to apply it to your working life through real actions which can improve yours and others work environment and relationships.
For more information about career development and coaching contact Careers in Depth today.
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