Manage Difficult Workplace Conversations Like a Jedi

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Manage Difficult Workplace Conversations Like a Jedi
by Ann Maldonado, Office Manager at Altman Foundation

Have you ever found yourself preparing for a difficult conversation?  Were you suitably prepared?  Did emotions get in the way of the message?  As you probably already know, communicating effectively is a fundamental skill that takes a lifetime to perfect.  

According to research, 85 percent of people prepare before a difficult conversation but are still less than likely to be satisfied with the outcome.  It well may be because they made crucial mistakes during the conversation, like ignoring or dancing around the real issue or not actively listening.  These mistakes can cause one or both parties to leave the meeting feeling hurt, angry, frustrated, or confused.

Recently I attended Foundation Administrators Network Meeting: Managing Difficult Workplace Conversations at Carnegie Corporation of New York, facilitated by Next Step Partners Michael Melcher and Shari Cohen, who shared their “3M Model for Managing Difficult Workplace Conversations.”  Below are some key takeaways that may help you navigate your next difficult conversation:

  1. First M - Mindful Preparation
  • Negative views about a person’s character affects the way we interact with him or her.  Make a conscious effort to enter the meeting with empathy and a positive attitude.   Leave any negative thoughts you have about the person or about your own capabilities behind.
  • Be open to the other person’s perspective.  You might learn something you didn’t know about his or her personal situation or about the issue you are discussing.
  • Know what your personal triggers are and think about how you will handle yourself if you feel your ego is being threatened.
  • Be clear and concise about your message.   Open the conversation by discussing your mutual goals and how important they are to accomplishing the foundation’s mission.  Gently raise the issue that needs to be addressed and the impact that the issue had or is having on you or on the foundation.  Discuss possible solutions.
  1. Second M - Monitoring
  • Monitor your feelings, thoughts, tone of voice, and body language.  Be present, listen attentively, and actively try to keep your mind from fading away into other thoughts.  Be aware of the other person’s body language and tone of voice.
  • Do not become distracted by answering your phone or checking emails.
  • Find a way to slow the conversation down if it gets intense.  One suggestion is to repeat the sentence that set your trigger off to the other person, e.g., “What I hear is that you feel that I am not doing a great job in supervising my department.  Am I hearing this correctly?  Would you like to discuss this further?”  This technique will give you time to get yourself together while the other person gets to hear what they said and to have a chance to reflect on it.
  1. Third M - Meta-conversation
  • Have a conversation about the conversation.  Ask questions to find out how the other person is feeling about the meeting and if their concerns have been heard:  “How do you feel about what was discussed?  Did I miss anything?  Do you have any questions?”  If necessary, ask if they would like to take a break or to reschedule another meeting for a later date.

At the conclusion of the meeting, we were reminded that we can only control our own emotions and how we choose to respond.  Staying positive, being present, and being actively aware of how you and the other person are feeling during the dialogue will help you navigate the conversation.  We can all continually improve our communication skills by attending workshops, staff trainings, teambuilding activities, or hiring a consultant if needed. 

I also recommend signing up for the National Council of Nonprofits webinar, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, on self-care for nonprofits on April 25th from 3:30pm-4:30pm for a fee of $25. The webinar is free for New York Council of Nonprofits and Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York members.


Research: The Work Conversations We Dread the Most, According to Research

Mistakes: Difficult Conversations in the Workplace – Don’t Make These Mistakes

Webinar: The Happy Healthy Nonprofit

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