Do you avoid difficult conversations?
You’re not the only one: research shows that many of us opt out of having conversations where there’s a feeling of confrontation.
We worry that we’ll say the wrong thing and make the situation worse, our imagination creates a whole host of scenarios as to how they will react or we simply don’t like feeling uncomfortable, so we delay the conversation or worse ignore it all in the hope the problem will go away.
It’s easy to allow ourselves to believe that going into conflict will create a cost to our business – but avoiding it is more costly. It leaves problematic situations to run unchecked and limits your productivity in the short and long term. Colleagues know you have shirked it and are dissatisfied that you have let them off the hook!
Stop making excuses
If we’re honest, most of us find ourselves putting off those difficult conversations, and we often do it in very similar ways. We come up with justification for our lack of action: “I’ll see if it sorts itself out”, “it might just have been a one-off” or even “it’s better if they work out for themselves where they’re going wrong”.
Essentially, they’re all excuses for avoiding a conversation we don’t really want to have. Recognising when you’re doing this is vital – only then can you stop yourself in your tracks and decide to take action.
Make it a real conversation
Of course, once we do resolve to tackle the situation and have the difficult conversation, we can still run into problems. One of the most common we see in our work is that people try to control the conversation: they prepare for it and plan it out so thoroughly, it’s no longer really a conversation.
For the person on the receiving end, that can be a very negative experience. They don’t feel heard and they aren’t involved in working out how to move forward, so they’re unlikely to engage with it. As a result, the problem isn’t really resolved, resentment starts to build and it’s likely it will all spill out again in future – and will probably be worse than the first time around.
It’s natural to want to feel prepared, but accepting you can’t predict or control the whole thing is an important part of dealing with difficult conversations. You need to listen to the other person and you need to take on board their ideas for improving the situation. You don’t have to have all the answers on the spot, but it’s vital to come back to them with a solution that reflects what they have told you and shows they have been heard.
That may sound like it’s easier said than done. However, there are plenty of ways to improve your confidence in dealing with conflict and ensure everyone comes out of a difficult conversation feeling positive.
The importance of dealing with conflict
According to research by ACAS, 81% of businesses said conflict has a negative impact on performance, 75% said it wastes management time, and 44% said it costs the company money. Yet as few as 61% of businesses said managing conflict was a priority and only half of organisations offered training in conflict management to their leaders and managers.
So companies which help equip their managers to deal with conflict will almost certainly feel the benefit.
Training people to have difficult conversations
You might think there’s no substitute for experience when it comes to getting better at those difficult conversations, but you can train people to be better at them. The key is to do it in a way which is easy to translate to real life so they can use the skills they learn once they’re back in a workplace situation.
Our game-based learning tool, What Would You Do?, is designed to do exactly this. It uses real-life scenarios to get people thinking not just about the best way to tackle a difficult situation, but also how their mindset influences their behaviour and the results they can achieve.
They can debate the merits of different approaches, discuss how their teams might respond to each, and bring in real-life examples of similar problems they have faced. The game encourages people to look at all the options, including their own role in both creating and resolving conflict, and weigh up the best way to proceed.
Creating an atmosphere where those conversations can happen
The beauty of the game is how well it translates to real life. Throughout development, we saw how managers – even those who had been identified as struggling with their role – took on learning from the game scenarios and began to improve their day-to-day approach. Companies testing the game told us it was more effective than any other tool they had tried.
The key is in giving managers the skills they need for real life – not just box-ticking in a training room. By letting them explore the potential impact of different approaches, they begin to learn for themselves that they can achieve more positive results by tackling things differently. This switch in mindset happens steadily during the training process, but it sticks: back in the workplace, their behaviour is immediately improved.
When managers feel confident in handling difficult conversations, they won’t shy away from inviting them. They won’t allow problems to fester, and their team’s productivity is likely to be consistently high as a result.
Equally, if teams know they can take any problem to their manager and have a frank conversation with a positive outcome, they will feel more comfortable raising difficult subjects. Managers who have the skills to listen and engage effectively, and to take positive action, will have a happier, more engaged and more productive team.
Ultimately, there will always be difficult conversations to be had in the workplace, and it’s unlikely anyone will relish the idea of having them. However, equipping managers with the skills to take on any conflict and come out of it with a positive result will help to reduce the impact on the business when they do arise.
If you’d like to know more about how game-based learning could help your managers to take on those difficult conversations, click here, or contact us.