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3 Tips for Difficult Conversations with Supervisors or Coworkers

Kathy Hayes on Jun 27, 2013 6:00:00 AM

Didn't Eleanor Roosevelt say something about no one can make you feel inferior without your consent?  Just substitute ‘inferior’ with any emotion and take your power back. – Marilyn Sherman

My teenage grandson, Sam, and I had an interesting conversation about interpersonal conflicts recently.  He and his younger brother had been quarrelling more than usual. When I asked him about the problem, Sam said, “If he would just quit being so annoying, I wouldn’t have to be mad at him all the time!”

It is natural, even as adults, to view ourselves as being pushed into being angry.  However, we’re not 13 anymore—it’s time to start finding constructive ways to settle differences with others.

(Please note: These steps are primarily for solving low level conflicts.  For harassment, discrimination or other Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) issues, use the process outlined in your employee handbook.)

  1. Think it through and Write it Down
    This was the first suggestion in last month’s blog, but it bears repeating.  Carefully analyze the problem and how you want to address it.  Make sure you’re taking responsibility for your part of the conflict.  Pretend that the other person doesn’t have any notion of the problem or how you feel about it.  Pick one or two issues that you feel are most important and devote your attention to them.  Make sure you’re ready to talk about specifics.
  2. Stay Focused and Respectful
    Don’t let the conversation be derailed by ancillary problems or personality conflicts.  Simply say, “That may be a concern, but right now I want to clear up this issue.”  Then move forward again.  Stay respectful and listen carefully.  If you feel angry, keep the emotion under control.  Remind yourself that you want to work this out, that you want things to be better.
  3. Have Some Reasonable Solutions Ready
    Have three or four ideas you can suggest as possible (even if only partial) ways to make things better. Make sure that you aren’t dumping all the changes onto someone else. Own your part of the problem and assure your boss or coworker that you are open to making personal improvements to alleviate the trouble. Be prepared to compromise.

Perhaps it is time for all of us to remove the phrase, “He/she makes me so mad!” from our thoughts, and replace it with something that makes us more personally responsible for our emotions. Here is mine: “I will not let his attitude affect me. I choose to be positive.”

What is yours?



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