Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

Difficult Conversations
in the Workplace
Rea Freeland
Ron Placone
Discussion over Dinner
What types of issues or situations have you
found to lead to difficult conversations in the
What are some factors that can make these
conversations difficult?
We’ll start our large group discussion in
about 15-20 minutes.
To recognize common patterns of
communication that can produce difficult
conversations and the underlying factors
that make them difficult.
 To discuss and apply models for dealing
with difficult conversations with
supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates.
Briefly discuss examples from groups
 Present models for handling difficult
 Explore options for sample scenarios in
small groups and as a large group
 Summarize strategies and problems to
watch out for
Models and Related Strategies
Getting to Yes
 Getting Past No
 Feedback Approaches
 Exchange Theory
 Learning Conversations
Common Components of
Successful Conversations
Prepare, especially where to begin.
 Know your own interests and the essence
of what you need.
 Anticipate (or find out) others’ interests.
 Focus on interests and behaviors, not
 Create an environment based on trust.
“Getting to Yes” Strategy
Separate People from the Problem
 Focus on Interests, not Positions
 Invent Options for Mutual Gain
 Use Objective Criteria
 Develop Your BATNA
(Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)
“Getting Past No” Strategy
Go to the Balcony
 Step to Their Side
 Reframe
 Build Them a Golden Bridge
 Use Power to Educate
Feedback/Learning Approach
Focus on the situation, issue or behavior
that you hope will change.
 Recognize accomplishments and effort.
 Frame comments in terms of perceptions
and potential consequences.
 Be specific, future-oriented, and timely.
 Engage in joint problem solving.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
When giving feedback:
 Invite
questions and clarifications; maintain
two-way communication.
 Acknowledge the other’s concerns; listen for
what may be difficult for them to change.
 Follow up to help them with new approaches;
change is seldom straightforward.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
When receiving feedback:
 Listen
calmly; avoid over-explaining.
 Work hard to see the other’s perspective and
ask questions to clarify as needed.
 Assume good intentions unless clearly proven
Exchange Theory
Assume the other is a potential ally.
Clarify your goals and priorities.
Diagnose your ally’s goals, concerns, and needs.
Assess your resources relative to your ally’s wants.
Diagnose your relationship with your ally (e.g. do you
need to prove your good intentions?).
Determine an exchange approach; be prepared for
expectations of reciprocity.
See handout for examples of valued currencies that
can often be exchanged.
Learning Conversations
Analyze the difference in
your view and the other
party’s view of events.
Impact on the other
Contributions to the
Impact on identity
Decide what you want to
accomplish and whether
talking is the best way.
Start the conversation as
the difference in your
perspectives and listen
Invent options to meet
each party’s important
concerns and interests.
Sample Scenarios
Each small group of 3-5 will have a
scenario and will be asked to consider:
 What
could make this scenario difficult for
each of you in the group?
 What range of strategies would the group
consider to handle it?
Types of Scenarios
You and a supervisor
 You as the supervisor
 You and a colleague/peer
 You as a member of a project team
 You negotiating in a difficult situation
Consider for each scenario…
Have you had related experiences?
 Where might the conversation best begin?
 What would you watch out for in:
 Word
 Tone of voice
 Nonverbal communication
How do you let your boss know if
you think he/she is making an
How do you give directions to a
strong-willed employee who insists
on doing things his/her own way
and who often argues with you?
How do you respond when a
colleague believes you are treading
on his/her perceived turf, even
when the roles are ambiguous?
How might you give unsolicited
negative feedback to someone on
your project team who is making
others’ tasks more difficult?
How could you negotiate (e.g. for a
job or promotion) when you can’t or
don’t want to compromise on one of
their top priorities?
Concluding Points
Be aware of timing – waiting to talk only
helps a difficult situation if the cause is
likely to change on its own.
 Recognize the possibility of transforming
relationships – trusting someone enough
to talk about difficult matters can lead to
more constructive interactions.
Elements of Building Trust
Take responsibility for your own actions.
 Stay interested in others without much
 Act to draw out the best in others.
 Appreciate and value differences.
 Tell the truth when it matters.