By Gavin Meikle, Head Of Learning And Founder Of Inter-Activ
If I had a pound for every time someone sidled up to me during a break in one of my workshops and said something like "I've got this problem with my boss/colleague/partner..." I'd be a wealthy man. They then proceed to tell me what it is that this other person does that drives them nuts and look at me longingly for the miracle cure. My first reaction is usually to ask if they have raised the issue with the other person and their reaction is normally "Oh no! I could never do that".
Now my personal and professional experience tells me that open honest assertive communication around these sorts of issues is often the best way to reach a workable solution. But all too often people never express their feelings honestly and, as we all know deep down inside, bottling up your feelings doesn't make things any better. In fact it sets you on a downward spiral of negativity that is not good for either party.
So why don't people talk about these issues more openly? The reasons fall into a number of numbers of related categories.
- They fear that speaking up will make things worse
- They don't know how to express their concerns assertively
- They believe that the other person is already aware of the effect of their behaviours
- They think expressing their feelings will be seen as a sign of weakness by others
- They don't believe it’s OK to express their feelings honestly and openly
In reality, most people are blissfully unaware of the effect of their behaviours on others and will continue blundering through life unless someone tells them. Open assertive communication is by far the best way of handling many of these issues.
So what can you do about it? Here are my top tips for initiating constructive conversations around difficult issues.
Prepare. Don't just blunder into the conversation, marshal your thoughts first. What is it specifically that the person does that annoys you? For example rather than saying something general such as "You always undermine my authority” give a specific example of what they did. For example "In the meeting this morning, I told Fred that there was no budget for his initiative and then you cut in and said that there was". Giving specific examples of the behaviour at issue is much more powerful.
Choose the time and place with care. These sort of discussions are best held in private when there are no distraction and there is time for a proper discussion.
Ask for permission. Don't just launch straight into a tirade of criticism. One powerful way to start is say "Can I give you some feedback?" and then wait for their answer. Asking for permission to give the other person some feedback is simple but really powerful.
Explain how their behaviour makes you feel. E.g. “When you contradict what I say in front of my team it makes me feel like an idiot and that you don’t trust me.”
Follow these simple guidelines and your chances of getting a positive outcome are considerably higher. And remember to let me know how you get on.