The Fine Art Of Leaning Into Environments In The Workplace, Even When It’s Difficult

by Angela Kambouris | Featured Contributor

Workplace conflict is on the rise. Whether it be with colleagues, clients, bosses, or navigating work relationships, you need to use your voice rather than avoid these situations. When you don’t speak up, you remain trapped in your conflict.

At times, conflict is needed.

Many humans skirt the chance to confront challenges or opt to avoid conflict when given an opportunity. Your fight or flight response kicks in when faced with potential threats, and often, the flight is much easier. When you avoid addressing workplace issues, they will fester than face away. Whether it be interpersonal issues, job function challenges, or personality quirks, conflicts are inevitable. Working towards a resolution is ecological for all involved – you, your team, and your organization.

Maybe your boss lashed out at you during a team meeting, or your direct report started to cry while you are giving feedback, or perhaps a business partner hung up the phone on you. Whether it be self-preservation, people tend to do everything they can to avoid the most obvious solution: talking. Recognizing the need for an awkward conversation is a starting point.

Being direct is an art-form that many people never master. Being too direct can have you labeled as rude, inconsiderate, or intimidating. On the flip side, if you avoid being direct, being a push-over or follower comes to mind. Either way, labels that you don’t want to adopt.

Most professionals are phenomenal at arguing on behalf of their clients, yet many don’t welcome having tough personal conversations. Rather than avoid, why isn’t your instinct to lean in? People invest their energy into all the negative consequences of their interactions.

The cost of inaction results in ongoing tension and stress. The feeling of being stuck only compounds over time. When you shift your approach and instill a new habit of stepping into difficult conversations, it can be a game changer. Imagine the benefits of not having to spend hours or weeks avoiding conversations, immersing yourself in the inherent underlying fear about them, and instead of the energy of possibility of a successful resolution.

The key is to learn how to produce a better outcome for all while keeping your relationship intact. Consider the following strategies to break through the resistance of mental obstacles by taking the first step to lean in.

Intention is everything

Catering to an audience is an important skill to keep in mind. Delivering constructive comments, without personalizing and finding a tone that adopts an empathetic approach is your priority. When being direct, remain to the facts, keep a measured tone, listen to the talking points, empathize with their response, and breathe when it’s time to respond. Listen to understand, not respond.

Get Uncomfortable

There is a certain level of messiness when dealing with difficult conversations. Getting comfortable with the uncertainty of the outcome is what often consumes people’s thoughts.

Adopt a frame of understanding the nature of difficult conversations and how to handle them, identify the preferred strategies for managing these conversations and use enhanced listening and empathy in a way that minimizes tension and conflict and strengths relationships

Adeptly navigate the murky waters.

When a swag of negative emotions is involved, people avoid talking to those whose behaviors create problems. You talk about them and not to them. Avoidance kicks in, and difficult conversations become foreign concepts.

People make the mistake of avoiding what is uncomfortable, scary or challenging. They choose to lay low or invest in seeking comfort from others who are just as uncomfortable and disagree with the behavior that is causing the difficulty.

When avoidance is the chosen response, people continue to stay stuck. Frustration accelerates, trust remains low, productivity lowers, health and wellbeing become compromised, and problems fester.

Decide to have the conversation or not.

You always have a choice, to have a conversation or not. Not choosing is still a choice. If you decide not to have the conversation, then you have the responsibility of moving on and letting it go.

If you choose to participate in the conversation, check the ego at the door alongside the soapbox of opinions, or morals. In the workplace, organizational values must be the platform for the discussion to launch from, to discuss workplace behavior and establish agreements on how to move on.

Kickstart the conversation

Begin the conversation by stating its purpose and your intention to come to some resolution. When you separate facts from emotion, you can articulate what you know to be true objectively and minimize the opportunity for the conversation to escalate.

By being present during the conversation, you are open to listening and acknowledging their views and engaging in a solution-focused discussion. Being problem-saturated helps no one.

Embrace the pause

During conversations, it can be tempting to fill the silence. Embracing the silence, and embodying the pause, creates an opportunity for the other person to feel listened and valued. Be respectful, patient, and open to walking in another person’s shoes.

Breathe in the Moment

The calmer and more centered you are, the better you respond to difficult conversations. Practice mindfulness where you focus on your breath. It creates a space where you can refocus and collect your thoughts.

Determine what is fact from the story.

Ask quality questions such as:

  • What do you know for sure?
  • What would add more value right now?
  • What are the facts? List all the facts and ask yourself, do you know that for sure? Is it a fact or part of a story l am telling myself?
  • What are you committing to move forward?
  • What is the simplest, fastest yet more thorough way to make this happen?

Find common areas of agreement on how you will both move forward and work together.

Lessons Learned

After a courageous conversation, it is worthwhile to reflect post discussion and consider what went well, would be improved, and what were the lessons learned from the experience. Reflect on the tone of the meeting, the responses, and could have there been a different approach. Investing in observing mentors leading these conversations is an opportunity to emulate their language, strategy, and tactics. Having courageous conversations is not just a skill, it is brave.



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