Most employees feel frustrated, concerned, upset, or discouraged at some point during the workday. Why? Because either they disagree with their boss, don’t support a colleague’s suggestion, or possess different views from the vocal majority.
Yet almost none of these employees share their opinions in a way that gets results. Either they clam up because they believe it’s unwise to disagree with the majority and authority, or they hold their differing opinions inside until they eventually blow a gasket—that is, they toggle from silence to violence.
Neither method gets an idea out into the open where it can be made part of the collective view or improves working conditions and relationships.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. When we employ crucial conversations skills at work, we elevate our capacity to influence decisions, improve relationships, and speak our minds in a way that’s heard. Employ these five tips to make your life better at work today:
1. Reverse Your ThinkingMost of us decide whether to speak up by contemplating the risks of expressing our opinions. Those who are best at crucial conversations don’t think first about the risks of speaking up. They think first about the risks of not speaking up. They realize if they don’t share their unique views, they will have to live with the poor decisions that will be made as a result of holding back their informed opinions.
2. Ask Yourself One QuestionCrucial conversations spark strong emotions. The brain shuts down, and we react immediately instead of thinking through how to respond. The wise person will ask themselves this one question: What do I really want? Use this question to activate and focus your brain and diffuse your own strong emotions.
3. Make It SafeThe antidote to defensiveness in crucial conversations is to foster a safe environment. People can listen to tough feedback so long as they feel safe with the person giving it. How do you create safety? You help others understand that you care about their interests as much as you care about your own. When they believe this is true, they listen to your views. When they don’t, they shut down.
4. EmpathizeThe key to influence is empathy. Before starting a crucial conversation, an influential leader carefully thinks about how the problems they want to raise are affecting, or will affect, the other person. They think about the natural consequences of the situation to the other person and reassure them that these consequences always exist. For example, if a direct report appears incompetent, it’s likely their incompetence is as frustrating to them as it is to others. The problem is that they don’t see how their weaknesses are connected to their own concerns. However, if you can help them see how their own interests are served by addressing the problem, they will be naturally motivated to engage in solutions.
5. Invite DialogueAfter you create a safe environment, it’s time to share your views. Then, invite differing opinions by encouraging the other person to disagree with you. Those who are best at crucial conversations want to learn—not just make their point. If your goal is just to dump your viewpoint onto others, they’ll resist your influence. If you are open to hearing others’ points of view, they’ll be more open to yours.
These tips won’t instantly give you everything you need, but they will start to increase your influence. Rather than contributing to problems by “acting out” your concerns, you’ll be talking them out instead—with the potential for finding a solution.