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Those Difficult Conversations at Work: How to Psyche Yourself Up

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A client came to me the other day asking me for coaching to help him deal with a colleague who was making false accusations, talking about him behind his back, micromanaging, and overall, making him look bad. We talked over several ways to deal with the situation. My client acknowledged that he knew that some of the options he was considering, though tempting, were vengeful and accusatory, and would just escalate the tension. He said that he knew he needed to “get his head in the right place” before initiating any discussion. I call this psyching yourself up for the interaction.

What this means is getting your mindset to a place that allows you to approach, listen and interact with the other person from a place of curiosity and self-responsibility, rather than accusation and blaming. Just how do you psyche yourself up to be there? Wouldn’t that just be fooling yourself? What if they ARE out to get you? That’s an understandable response.

Your thoughts and conclusions about the situation may be right on target. But you can’t really know for sure until you talk to the person about it. And even if it turns out that you are right, even if they never admit it, approaching the situation in a non-accusatory way will more likely salvage the relationship. And even if you don’t necessarily want to salvage the relationship, you will have spoken my truth in a way that is respectful to all parties, even if you believe the other person does not deserve it. So, how do you do that? Below you will find seven key points for psyching yourself up for that difficult conversation.

As difficult as these questions may be to answer, take some time to think about your responses. These questions are not meant to get you to back off or take sole responsibility for what went wrong in the interaction. They are meant to get you to a place where you can compassionately express your concerns and are open to the other person’s side of it. Ask yourself:

1. What do I like about the other person? Does the individual have any redeeming qualities that I can admit, e.g. the person may be picky, but can her passion for attention-to-detail be channelled productively into our collaborative efforts?

2. In what ways might this person be right about this situation? Has she touched on something I don’t want to admit I’m responsible for? Maybe I really should have communicated sooner. And even if I don’t think so, would it be that difficult to communicate more often or in more detail?

3. Is there more than one explanation for the other person’s behavior? For instance, is she lashing out because she is threatened by my expertise or knowledge? This is not an excuse but an explanation that may help diffuse the intensity of my anger, feeling of betrayal, etc.

4. What assumptions am I making? Do I know she talked about me behind my back?

5. Where might I be wrong? You know, I’ve been building this story without really checking with her on facts and motivations.

6. What do I value about the relationship? Well, she’s not going away. We’re going to be working together for the length of this project, and we need each other’s unique expertise.

7. What is the goal? What do I have control over? I know. The only thing I really have control over is what I do with this. I need to be clear on my intention for the discussion, and my own standards for myself.

Now, you’re all ready, right? Don’t expect to do this perfectly. Even a little effort can make a difference.

Now that you’ve “gotten your head in the right place,” check out the next step, where you will learn key techniques for following through on conducting a potentially difficult interaction.

Copyright 2002-2006, Mary C. Schaefer, all rights reserved.

Mary Schaefer - EzineArticles Expert Author

Mary Schaefer is President and Lead Consultant for Artemis Path, LLC. She holds a Master’s in Human Resources Management and is certified as an HR Professional (PHR). Mary’s 20 years of experience in industry, most recently as an HR manager, allows her to effectively coach you as a supervisor, small business owner or employee, on how to get along better at work! You can find more information about how Mary can help you at

While you are there, check out how the expanded, 14-page eworkbook version of the Ten Ways to Survive Your Current Job can help you!!


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  • Posted On November 24, 2006
  • Published articles 283513

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