HR Daily Interviews Zandy Fell on Difficult Workplace Conversations

Posted on Nov 15, 2019 in Hot Topics,Latest Articles . 0 Comments.

Difficult workplace conversations regularly become heated, but this should rarely be a surprise, nor should managers lack strategies that help them quickly regain control.  In this article, Jo Knox, Editor of HR Daily interviews Zandy Fell on why The Zalt Group view difficult conversations as a strategic business advantage.  The full article can be found on the HR Daily Website here:

When an employee becomes combative during a difficult conversation, leaders can be more prepared with strategies to bring the temperature down, says a conflict specialist.

“If we take a step back, one of the reasons we find conversations difficult with even someone who’s not combative… is because we’re generally nervous about the uncertainty of a lack of control that we have walking into a conversation,” The Zalt Group director Zandy Fell tells HR Daily.

But of course, combative employees can complicate matters by responding in a more fiery manner, Fell says.

“The content or context is secondary to what their reaction is, and that’s really where you need to manage your reaction to get back onto the content.”

It shouldn’t actually be a surprise when an employee responds in a combative way – in most cases, Fell says that if someone has stopped to think about it, they know when a person might react in a particular way.

“The truth is, most difficult conversations you know are coming. We’re probably more aware than we give ourselves credit for. We feel like it was unexpected because we’ve lost that control. Part of the strategy is, ‘how do I get that control back?'”

If the conversation starts veering away from the content that needs to be communicated, Fell recommends identifying the curveball and being wary of not responding in a way that will exacerbate the situation.

“I don’t want to be in autopilot and react. I actually need to make a deliberate response that I can influence or control,” she says, adding that self-management is key to bringing the temperature down.

An invaluable strategy is to understand what’s driving the other person’s behaviour, Fell says. “Behaviour doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a reason that people behave in a particular way and it generally makes sense to them, so drilling down to understand why someone is responding in this way requires you to make the choice that you’re willing to understand rather than just to roll back the behaviour.”

Saying something like “I can tell this is having an impact on you. I’m not exactly sure where this is coming from. Can you give me insight?” will shed light on how the situation can be steered, she says.

An under-utilised strategy is ongoing maintenance, and Fell recommends revisiting an earlier conversation and reflecting on what happened and how to avoid it next time.

Developing relationships

All managers need to see that relationships with their people are a strategic advantage, Fell says, adding that a strong relationship is one that can deal well with differences.

Managers don’t need to know the intimate details of their employees’ lives, but they should know them well enough to be aware of what pushes their buttons, she notes.

And if they don’t know this, the simple fix is to ask.

“It’s not a guessing game. It can be quite a transparent process of saying to somebody, ‘I’d like to understand’.”

Fell says asking the right questions is a roadmap for good management, and particularly effective questions include:

  • What’s the best way I can give you feedback?
  • What stresses you out?
  • What should everyone who works with you know about you?
  • What would you like to be respected for?

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