What's scarier than a sexy Halloween costume contest at work? How about the conference room conversation with a boss or a peer to address stupid behaviors or a major mistake on the job?
"Most people think it takes courage," said Kerry Patterson, co-author of the books Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations. What it really takes is skills to have a healthy conversation with a positive outcome.
One third of us have postponed these scary conversations for at least a month, and one-fourth of us have delayed for a year or longer, according to a poll last year of 970 people for VitalSmarts, the consulting and training company Patterson and his co-authors run. The scariest discussions address bad behavior or incompetence and obnoxious or illegal behaviors.
So here are six steps for scary chats, from Patterson and his books:
- Talk face-to-face and in private. Don't revert to phone or email and don't back out.
- Assume the best of others. Perhaps the coworker doesn't know how annoying their behavior is. Maybe the boss has been burned before.
- Share facts not conclusions. By staying away from your beliefs and perspective you may avoid some defensiveness.
- Use tentative language. Say something like "This is what I have observed." Or "I'm starting to wonder whether…."
- Ask for their view. Find out how they see the problem.
- Use equal treatment. Everyone needs to feel like they're a "reasonable, rational person who deserves your respect."
When you're talking to your boss, it's "doubly important" to follow these guidelines; be professional and avoid loaded labels like micromanaged or difficult, Patterson said. The stakes are much higher - and the relationship and your income need to be preserved.
Ask for more information in a neutral context. Think of yourself as a detective trying to solve a case, Patterson said. "Be curious rather than angry."
So take off that mask of fear and put on your detective’s hat to turn a scary conversation into a healthy discussion.
For more on these scary conversations and managing the emotions that come up before, during and after them, see my blog post on WorkingKind.com.