This was something I really had to study and learn and get good at. I was never keen on confrontations. For me it was easier to be the silent one rather than rock the boat and be the bad guy. What I soon came to realise is that keeping quiet doesn’t help anybody involved in a crucial or uncomfortable conversation.

Crucial or uncomfortable conversations can actually take many forms like the following list.

  • Conflict between two workers in the same or different departments
  • Issues over pay and being or the wrong tax bracket
  • Having to let somebody know they’re under performing
  • Having to let somebody know their body odour is affecting the people around them (I can tell you now that was a hard conversation to have)
  • Asking for a pay rise
  • Letting your boss know that you’re seeking a new position somewhere else
  • Telling your boss that you’re pregnant
  • Asking for time out from work because you’re stressed and feeling anxious
  • When a customer or client kicks off and screams in your face
  • Having to fire a team member
  • Telling your partner you don’t want to be with them any more
  • Telling your mates you can’t go out tonight because you’re with the Mrs
  • Letting somebody know you don’t really want to spend time with them

The list goes on but you get the general feeling of what constitutes to a crucial or uncomfortable conversation. How you deal with each of these scenarios and conversation as a manager and a person will forge a reputation for you. If you handle it badly, it’ll follow you for a long time. Handle it well and people will be coming to you to seek resolutions for things all the time.

My favourite crucial conversation

The best example I can give you of having to deal with a crucial conversation happening when I was the duty manager at a gym one night. I got a call over the radio and it went like this.

“Dean can you come to reception please, we’ve got an abusive member at reception.”

I got to reception and asked what the situation is.

“His membership on freeze but he wants to come in and use the pool and the sauna. I’ve told him he can’t and now he’s been shouting and screaming in my face.”

With this information I went and approached the member, took him away from the reception area and this is roughly how the conversation flowed.(I’m talking back to 2011 now….)

Me: “Good evening sir what seems to be the problem?”

Member: “She won’t let me in the club and I’m a member and I’m f**king furious! I pay over a £180 a month to use this club and that girl has the nerve to tell me I can’t come in!”

Me: “I understand the frustration but if you continue to be abusive to staff I’ll have to ask you to leave the club….

I was then interrupted

Member “I fucking told her”

Me: “sir if you continue to swear I’ll will have you escorted out the gym by security, now talk to me reasonably, what’s the issue?”

Member: “I want to come in and use the club but I froze the membership because I was supposed to be away in Italy all summer. But I’ve been asked to come back because I have a last minute interview they’ve asked me to come for tomorrow, I just want to swim and sauna and relax.”

Me: “Ok, I can completely understand that, did the receptionist mention that you could pay the guest pass and come in to use the facility. Or you can pay the balance for the rest of the month and come in and use the club unrestricted? “

Member: “she did but I’m not paying because I’m already a f**king member and…

Me. “Sir that’s  a final warning, next swear word that comes out your mouth I’m calling security. Or you can leave of your own accord and be more stressed than when you came in.”

Member: “I’m just super stressed and worried about tomorrow it’s an interview for a multi-million pound job role”

Me. “If you apologise to the receptionist, explain why you reacted the way you did, pay the guest fee for the day, I’m happy to let you come in and use the club. But till then, I cannot let you in the club, it’s a breach of club rules. And also you’ve been incredibly rude to the staff for only doing her job and doing it well.

Member: “That’s not right that’s not fair, fuck it I’ll just cancel my membership.”

So with this I didn’t say a word other to tell him that I’ll get him the cancellation forms.

I returned with the forms, he proceeded to fill them but I was talking with him all the time seeking to understand his reasons for being so wound up. Before he got to the section that detailed the reason(s) for cancelling the membership. I asked him for the forms, I then started to fill in this section and write down that he was abusive to staff, refused to pay for entry to the club and was asked to leave. I asked him how he felt when he read that back.

Member: “Ok yeah I see your point.”

Me: “Do you like using this club? Do you like the facility? Do you really want to cancel? Because I don’t think you really do. Tell you what, I won’t file this paper work, you can keep your membership. If you apologise to the receptionist, pay the entrance fee for today, go have a swim and sauna, when you’re done I’ll buy you a coffee and then we can talk about this interview and why it’s got you so pent up. Sound good?

Member: “Ok yeah that makes total sense.”

With this exchange I was taking a huge gamble, its only because I have the NLP, motivational interviewing, sales training, experience of complaint handling and character judgement that I have,  I took this chance. I knew that he’d be the kind of guy that once he saw in writing what was, a ridiculous reason for quitting the club he’d come around.

After this exchange he went and paid the entry fee said his genuine apologies and went and used the club. The receptionist informed me that he’s been notorious in the past for shouting at staff and getting his own way and that normally he does. I was the first person to ever threaten to throw him out and to get him to say sorry, the receptionist was almost in shock!

All I wanted to do with this guy was try to understand what was making him so angry. I was seeking to understand him, not judge him, not advise him just to understand him and build some rapport with him.

Setting yourself up for success in an awkward situation.

The frame work for having these kinds of conversations is hard to detail out. Purely because there a so many combinations of factors that can feed into situations becoming uncomfortable. So what I’m going to do here is detail out what I’ve found to be the best case things that have happened. Whether they’ve happened by intuition, by accident or because I’ve actually implemented what I’ve learned about negotiating and managing conflict. All I know is they’ve worked. I’ve ranked order the way that I like to do things when it comes to these type of conversations.

  1. Create a safe space. There has to be a place that you can take somebody to, that means you both have privacy. You’re away from people wanting to listen in and put their 10pence worth in. Make sure that you let people know in the safe space there is no judgement, there is no repetition of anything that’s been discussed to third parties. And make sure you create the environment of safety and trust.
  2. Listen! I don’t just mean nod your head. Make notes and allow the other person let out whatever they need to and get it off their chest.
  3. Ask questions that are only seeking to understand the other person’s perspective. Lot’s of what’s, why and how’s. Use the phrase “help me to understand, what you’re saying is….”. And then summarise their points and make sure you definitely understand what they mean. This step of seeking to understand is a huge step and should never be missed!
  4. Always seek win-win options, this means that you’re seeking common ground for all parties involved. This means after listening and clarifying what each person has concerns about. What you do then is ask each party involved “What’s the best case outcome that could happen for you? What do you actually want?”. Once you’ve got this list for all parties involved, have each party think about how they can all have what they want and need. If no resolution can be found, ask them. “What is a reasonable concession that means you still get what you want, but also accommodates the other parties?”. This question gets people thinking, another I like that gets people working for solutions is. “How can we all move forward with everybody getting what they want?”. This question starts moving a mind-set towards solutions and further away from problems and complaints.
  5. Think big, think both, not and/or. When you start thinking, how can I have both rather than having to pick an option. You’ll notice that your own mind-set will shift to one of abundance and one of “how can I actually engineer having everything go my way?” Rather than “How do I choose between” Or “What’s the lesser of two evils” Or “What’s the priority? I can’t have one thing suffer at the expense of another…”

Once you get these 5 steps in place you’ll soon see that your ability to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations will grow. Once you’re comfortable to have these conversations particularly when it comes to verbally and informally pulling up your friends, partners or team on behaviours and performance. You’ll soon notice that people around you will also open to you and they will want to talk to you about their feelings and how they can be better for themselves and for you. Even your own behaviour as a person and leader or manager will get better which has happened to me… I got pulled up because my team felt comfortable enough to let me know that I wasn’t stepping up and pulling my own weight. I was incredibly grateful to the team for bringing this up because it made me raise my game again.

With perfect practice comes mastery.

Mastering this art will set you apart from a lot of other men out there.

One last thing that really helped me have these kind of conversations was to remember the values by which I work. Both professionally and personally. When you behave and manage by values particularly when there is conflict it almost guides you as to what the course of action should be. But this can only happen when your values are rank ordered by priority of what’s most important to you. Make sure you stand your ground and enforce the values you hold true to yourself.

Here are my go to resources that I hope will really help you like they did for me when it comes having difficult conversations.

  • 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen R. Covey
  • Crucial conversations by Kerry Patterson
  • Connecting paradigms by Matthew S. Bennett
  • Motivational interviewing by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick

For help with finding the confidence and skill set to be master of your own conversations. Get in contact today and we’ll move you forward to be in a place to empower those around you. And be able to get what you want and need.