In today’s fast-paced, multi-national, interdependent world, how do you talk about important topics with people whose specialty, culture, or physical location make it difficult to freely and clearly speak your mind? Here are some tips for bridging the gap—whether it’s across departments or across oceans.
- Avoid e-mail. When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, never let e-mail replace talking. Complex topics deserve real-time, two-way communication. If you can’t meet face-to-face, talk on the phone.
- Tentatively share concerns. Express your views and then tentatively share your concerns. Listen for hesitance from the other side. If you address both sides of an issue, you make it clear that it’s okay to raise differing opinions.
- Invite differing views. After you’ve shared your view, conclude by making it safe for others to honestly express their opposing views.
Ask, “What might I have missed here?” or “What do we need to do differently to make this work for you?”
- Allow time. In some cultures, any quick response to a suggestion is seen as immature. When you give people time to review a proposal with their own team, it provides them with a chance to work on how they express their views and to make any necessary translations.
Remember, your goal should be to jointly come to a shared understanding. Physical, emotional, or intellectual distance calls for careful and honest dialogue.
Bad news—nobody likes receiving it. Giving bad news to others can be equally troublesome, particularly when they hold you responsible for the bad news—even if you’re not. What do you do when the person on the receiving end becomes upset and starts to take it out on you, the messenger?
1. Don’t Play “What’s Wrong with Them?” Get over the fact that people blame you when they have no right to do so. To avoid responding with anger, say to yourself, “These are people under stress, and it’s my job to help them through this.” This perspective will help move you away from acting superior or defensive.
2. Share the Pain. When people hear bad news, they start responding with strong emotions and weak thinking. Acknowledge their pain. Express your honest concern. “I’m sorry, this must be a big blow for you.” When someone is upset they want sympathy, not a lecture.
3. Actively Listen. To let people know that you’re listening to their concerns, don’t jump in with quick answers or corrections to their false statements. Instead, paraphrase in your own words what they just said. Do this to ensure you know their concerns, as well as to let them know you’re trying to understand them.
4. Keep Focused. Finally, remember what you want out of each conversation. Your goal is to keep a healthy and long-term relationship, not win or disprove the other person’s point of view.
Once you’ve worked on yourself, shared your concern, actively listened, and done your best to stay focused, you’ve earned the right to share your views.
If you’re experiencing racial slurs, enduring sexual harassment, or are a daily witness to other degrading behaviors at work, don’t settle, sue, or quit. Fix the silly but commonly held belief that your only choice is between taking it and quitting. Joseph Grenny offers three helpful steps for dealing with the problem. He suggests adopting a “three strikes and you’re out” approach:
1. Strike One: On the first offense, speak up immediately and ask the other person to commit to stop. Don’t be subtle-–be direct. Make it private and make it polite.
2. Strike Two: Don’t confront the same problem twice. The first time you confront it, you’re asking for a commitment to stop. If after making the commitment, the person continues, you now have to confront the new problem-–the person’s failure to keep the commitment. This is a bigger problem than the repeated behavior. Privately, politely, and immediately point out the failure. Ask why it happened, and attempt to get a commitment to change. Let the person know that if he or she breaks this commitment you will lose confidence that talking is sufficient. Tell the person that you plan to explore other options for correcting this situation.
3. Strike Three: Know your options. If the bad behavior happens again, it’s time to escalate. You’ve tried to talk things out without success. Report the behavior to HR, or use other channels to prosecute your rights. Be clear on HR, legal, and other policies you have working in your favor in case the behavior happens again.
You’re seated across from an interviewer who is waiting to be impressed. What will make you stand out from the herd? Well, like it or not, it probably won’t be your academic record. Your resume is also a feature that can only serve to eliminate you if you haven’t done it well. Grades, classes, and resumes rarely set you apart.
So what makes the difference? It’s your ability to master crucial conversations that is most likely to land you that job. Every time you talk with a future employer, you’re in the middle of a crucial conversation. Stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong.
Why would recruiters pay so much attention to your interpersonal skill as demonstrated during the interview? Interpersonal skills matter because in a real job, you work in a social environment made up of small groups and teams. Individuals who aren’t able to express themselves well aren’t heard, so their best ideas are often missed. Additionally, individuals who fall apart under the pressure of an interview aren’t going to stand up to the tension-filled conversations offered up most days at work.
Some helpful tips on landing that job:
1. Work on your mindset. Convince yourself that you want the job and you’d be honored to work for the company. Otherwise, you’re not a good enough actor to hide your uncertainty or possible disdain. You can always say no later.
2. Read your audience. As much as the interview feels like it’s about you, it’s not. It’s about how well you’ll fit into the new culture. That means you need to know something about the company and people you’re talking to. Do your homework. Also, as the interview unfolds, watch for nonverbal cues.
3. Practice holding crucial conversations with a friend. Practice both advocating and listening. Ask your friend to see if you speak confidently without seeming pushy or brash, and if you carefully listen. Ask clarifying questions when necessary.
4. Ask for the job. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t offered a job because they didn’t have the moxie to ask for it.
As you watch people who thrive under horrendous pressure, you quickly discover their source of strength. They don’t thrive because they experience stress, squeeze a beanbag, and then fall back into control. Most don’t feel stress in the first place.
Why is that? Because they know how to handle crucial conversations. When facing an apparent debacle, they don’t whip themselves into a frenzy by assuming the worst of others. Instead, they assume the best and then look for facts. They don’t hold court in their head about others and find them guilty before exploring the facts.
They also know how to express their strong opinions in a way that’s persuasive, not abrasive. How? They make others feel safe by assuring them of their own positive intentions and respect for them. Finally, they invite dialogue. This means they actually encourage the other person to disagree with them. By avoiding heated arguments, they keep emotions in check.
So here’s the big take away. Learn how to master crucial conversations, and cut off stress at the source.
Visit http://www.vitalsmarts.com/styleunderstress/ and take our free online Style Under Stress assessment. This short quiz will help you understand your tendencies to move toward silence, violence, or dialogue.