Keep Difficult Conversations From Turning Toxic
A version of this article appeared at Inc.com
Ever had a discussion with someone that left you blindsided and scratching your head, wondering “How did that go so wrong?”
There’s a time in every relationship when a difficult conversation is called for – and business relationships aren’t exempt.
While some leaders deal better than others with such encounters, even the most skilled communicator will at some point experience that dreadful, dawning realization that a difficult conversation has just turned into a toxic one – and often for obscure, seemingly unfathomable reasons.
When misunderstanding occurs between people (whether boss-employee or between peers) who are having a difficult conversation, unfounded emotions get in the way, and ‘difficult’ soon turns into ‘train wreck’.
One of the most effective ways to avoid such derailments is to better understand the other person’s communication style. Even if you are a great communicator, that doesn’t remove the possibility that the other person isn’t hearing what you say the way you intended it.
Visionary leaders, for example, will often cope well with criticism or feedback on their broad, overarching ideas, but will rankle like a cat stroked the wrong way if they feel they are being nit-picked over detail (which they view as irrelevant, or mundane, at least). The lesson? With Visionaries, pick your battles – you’re more likely to get traction on the big-picture issues, and you’ll only frustrate them (and yourself) if you try to hold their feet to the fire on ‘mere detail’.
Sidebar: If you find yourself frequently having to have difficult conversations with a Visionary about detailed issues, it’s likely they’re deployed in a role that doesn’t fit their skills.
Processor leaders, on the other hand, pride themselves on detail, and struggle mightily when they feel they’re being criticized vaguely and without sufficient evidence to back it up. So next time you’re headed in to a difficult conversation with a Processor, make sure you have all your facts and figures with you.
Got a bone to pick with an Operator? Make it blunt, short, and to the point. Be clear, and don’t over-embellish with irrelevant information. Also, have the difficult conversation early – don’t let things fester. Operators are typically strong-minded, and much prefer having ‘short accounts’.
When dealing with Synergists, remember that their key concern is for people, not things or abstract ideas. Show respect, and take the time to put your Synergist colleague at ease before commencing the meat of the discussion. Backing a Synergist into a corner, or placing them in a situation where they feel unsafe or insecure may release a few endorphins, but it will all but eradicate any chance of resolving the underlying issue.
So remember – next time you have to have a difficult conversation with a colleague, take time to consider their communication preferences, and not just your own. Unsure whether your colleague is a Visionary, Operator, Processor, or Synergist? This short quiz will help.