Speaking Up

I came across this piece about having tough conversations with your boss at the Fast Company site.

The article suggests you ask these three questions before you launch:

Have I focused on reality?

People often put off having difficult conversations (and not just with the boss) because they’re afraid of what might happen. When you’re planning your approach, think off the range of responses. The article suggests you concentrate on the probable response, not all the possible responses.

I’d add that it’s useful to identify the response that’s your worst fear (“He’ll fire me” or “He’ll hit me”) and see if you believe you could survive that. (You can.)

My experience is that my fear (Fantasy Experienced As Reality) about the conversation are almost always worse than the actual event. And the pre-conversation anxiety is more uncomfortable than the conversation.

Why am I having this conversation?

I’d rephrase this question as “What do I want to have happen as a result of this conversation.” This is another chance for a reality check, and knowing why you are having the conversation will help you focus and develop your approach.

Am I going to inflame the discussion?

The article suggest using neutral language and gives two examples:

(accusatory) ‘You say completely ignorant things from time to time that indicate to me that you’re a racist.’

(neutral) ‘You say things from time to time that make it sound as if you don’t respect me.’

I think we can do better than this.

I tried to put myself in the place of someone hearing the “neutral” sentence.

In the first part of the sentence, I’m wondering “What did I say? What the heck is he talking about?” When I hear the second part of the sentence, My reaction is “Of course I respect you!”

Hmmm. Probably won’t get you the open dialogue you want.

Start by staying the the “I” position — stating what you saw/head and how you responded — rather than stating your interpretation of the other persons motivation or intent. Ascribing feelings, motivations, or intentions is seldom helpful, and often puts the other person on the defensive.

How about:

“When I heard you say blah, blah, blah, I was upset by that. Can we talk about that?”

Then follow with:

“When you said blah, blah, blah, I felt like you didn’t respect me, and I bet that wasn’t your intention.”