If people only talked to each other, most of the conflict in the workplace would disappear.
Instead, it seems when we are wounded by someone or disagree with something they’ve done, we end up talking to everyone except the person who’s directly involved. We wander down the hall and talk to a co-worker, mention it to our lunch buddies, complain about it to our spouse. We spread the negative poison around the organization, drag unwitting co-workers into the fray, sully reputations and, in the end, erode the trust that comes from open, honest, face-to-face communication.
Where did we ever get the idea that confronting someone face-to-face had to be such a horrible encounter? Are we all so worried about being “nice” that we’ve opted for being spineless? And when did we get confused about the perils of telling people the truth? What about the perils of not telling them the truth? Our organizations are paying a big price for this “smile to your face/behind your back” communication style. It’s costing millions in wasted time and lost productivity, in addition to a human price in broken trust and lost respect.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating brutal honesty and confrontation that strips away self-esteem and dignity. I’m talking about the respectful, caring communication that says, “I care about our relationship. Something’s bothering me and I thought it was important to talk to you about it directly so we could reach an understanding.”
I think most people are afraid. They’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. They’re afraid of sounding “negative” or “making waves.” They’re afraid of the backlash that can come from a conflict that escalates into a fight. They’re afraid of de-motivating their employees. They’re afraid of not being liked. They’re afraid of collecting political baggage. They’re afraid of not getting ahead or of losing their job.
If you’re guilty of side-talk instead of straight-talk, here are some behaviors that can help:
Use the ‘best intentions’ approach.
Most people don’t intentionally wake up in the morning and think to themselves, “I’m going to really hurt her feelings today!” Most people have the very best intentions. But it’s those good intentions that keep getting us into trouble because others don’t know our intentions; they only judge our actions.
When approaching another person about a conflict, say, “I’m sure you had good intentions when you…but let me tell you how it looked from my perspective.” Rather than waving the finger of blame in someone else’s face, just talk about the effect it had on you.
Use the ‘I’m just getting your advice’ approach sparingly.
A lot of damage can be done by going to person after person “seeking advice” about how to handle a conflict situation. It can become a way to see how many people are on your side. It can also be a sneaky way of poisoning the well for the other person; everyone’s heard your “side,” so the other person suffers political blows no matter what the outcome.
Start by looking for things for which you should take responsibility.
The beauty of opening any conflict resolution session with self-disclosure is that you bring the other person’s defenses down immediately and problem-solving can occur.
Be as open and honest as you can, while preserving her self-respect and dignity.
This is the very heart and soul of building trust. Sugar-coating your message or smoothing over the seriousness only destroys trust. If you respect the other person and want to remove barriers that are getting in the way, the only way to build trust is to be open, honest and straightforward. But in order to preserve the relationship, you must let people maintain their dignity and save face.
Does this sound pretty basic? You bet. It also is just plain good common sense. But common sense isn’t so common – we all have to work at it.