Imagine winning a million in the lottery, and telling somebody about it. That would be fun, I suspect. Or imagine returning from a space voyage, having visited strange new worlds, and telling someone about that. No problem there either.
Now imagine having a heart-to-heart conversation with someone at work with whom you have a troubled relationship. Imagine telling him or her about what you find troubling. Now that's a bit trickier.
For most of us, even imagining that scene is painful.
As you imagined it, what did you notice in yourself? Did you feel warm? Did you feel your muscles tighten? Did your heart rate increase? Did you feel hungry, or nauseous, or did you want to get up and walk around, or maybe talk with a friend?
If you noticed any of these things, or anything similar, you can relax. Take a breath. That conversation didn't really happen. You're fine.
Even though you were only imagining the conversation, look at what happened! In a real conversation you might be even more aware of your reactions.
Reactions to these situations can complicate the task of getting through them. Here are some of the advantages of knowing your reactions and knowing how to manage them.
- We can think about some difficult options, and make clearer assessments of those options.
- We can choose to consider some options even though they're unpleasant.
- We can generate insights and ideas that are more likely to surface while we're considering uncomfortable options.
- We can rehearse tactics for difficult interactions.
- We're more likely to enter these situations prepared, because preparation itself becomes easier.
Reactions to difficult
conversations can complicate
the task of getting
through themKnowing how we react to difficult conversations, and knowing how to manage our reactions, can thus be very helpful. Here are some tips for contemplating difficult conversations.
- Choose a safe and comfortable place.
- Notice your breathing from time to time and keep it clear and steady.
- Imagine the conversation in detail. Where it is, what's in the room, what the lighting is like, what your partner looks like, how your voices sound.
- Tell yourself that you can stop any time you want.
- Actually stop, just to practice stopping, or if your imagining gets too difficult.
- Imagine the situation more than once. Notice similarities and differences between different imaginings.
- When you re-imagine the conversation, recall past imaginings. Keep what fits, and discard what doesn't.
- To make it a little more realistic, when you're ready, invite a buddy to sit with you or nearby or on call by phone while you practice.
When you finally have the difficult conversation, remember that the problems between you are probably not yours alone. Other people are almost always involved in any difficulty between two. Maybe the two of you can work that part out together. That collaboration can help bring you closer. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- On Organizational Coups d'Etat
- If your boss is truly incompetent, or maybe even evil, organizing a coup d'etat might have crossed
your mind. In most cases, it's wise to let it cross on through, all the way. Think of alternative ways out.
- Creating Trust
- What can you do when you discover that the environment at work is permeated with distrust? Your position
in the organization does affect your choices, but here are some suggestions that might be helpful to anyone.
- Handling Heat: I
- Heated exchanges in meetings are expensive to both the organizational mission and to the careers of
the meeting's participants. Preventing them — or dealing with them when they happen — is
everyone's job. But what can you do when they persist?
- First Aid for Wounded Conversations
- Groups that meet regularly sometimes develop patterns of tense conversations that become obstacles to
forward progress. Here are some ideas for releasing the tension.
- Creating Toxic Conflict: II
- Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among
their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use
that make trouble.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.