Imagine a difficult conversation having a fantastic outcome. Most of us hate difficult conversations. Either we’ve seen confrontation make things worse, or we don’t trust the person we have an issue with, or we are relationship people who just can’t rock the boat. Whatever it is, it’s not fun. Good news — there is a tried and true process for turning what could be a terrible confrontation into an opportunity for deeper trust and transparency. It goes like this:
When You…: This needs to be super neutral and only reference the behavior, not any intention. So instead of something like, “When you railroad the team”, try “When you make a decision before each of us has shared our perspective.”
I Feel… (or I am, I get, I see it as): People can argue facts and intention, but not how you feel. Really ask what about the situation bothers you, even if you feel vulnerable doing so. In the above instance, it may be, “I get frustrated.”
Because…: Here you get into the why. Maybe it’s that the above referenced’s decisions mean you have to fix mistakes later. Maybe it’s because you see team members checked out because they are not being heard. The more specific, the better.
Manage the response. Part two is just as hard! When we confront, the tension shoots up. Typically people either: Deny: “I don’t know what you are talking about. No one in the meeting said they had an issue.” or Defend: “What do you mean? We’ve kept the project moving forward thanks to my quick decisions, and no one acknowledges that.” or Deflect: “The real problem is that we don’t have enough people on the team.”
First, stay calm – the increase in tension doesn’t mean you’ve done it wrong. Then listen and paraphrase without buying into the argument. In the deny response above, it might sound like, “You don’t know what I am talking about. No one spoke up. Yes, I can see how you might see it that way.”
The acknowledgement of their perspective will ideally reduce the tension somewhat. Now you repeat your feedback: “I get it. The thing is, when you decide things and close the meeting, I just have the sense that others don’t get behind the decision.”
Tension will increase again. And the person may shift tactics. If they first denied, now they might deflect: “I’m sorry you have that perception. Maybe you should rethink that and really ask them how they feel.” You then shift back to gentle listening and paraphrasing: “It looks like maybe it’s me.”
Then repeat again. “Maybe so. However I see it, I have to share how it affects me. When you make a decision before we’ve all weighed in, I feel frustrated and I don’t think we are working at our best.”
Eventually the tension should release so that you can shift to talking about solutions. This stuff isn’t easy. What I can share is that I use it more and more in my work and life, and it works. Difficult conversations always carry a level of tension. Do prepare in advance. Do find a private, quiet time for it. And do try it. Even if it only goes so-so, your confidence will build. What’s more, you will then both have each other as a resource. Cool beans.