How to approach a difficult conversation

No-one actually likes having a difficult conversation. Indeed, most of us dread it and freely admit to avoiding conflict (or even the potential of conflict) at all costs. However tempting it is to put things off, it is healthier for you and your relationships in the long run if you learn how to approach situations where discord or disagreement is likely. The two basic rules are (1) change your mindset and (2) plan ahead. 1. Change your mindset Swap negative thinking for positive expectations The usual thinking before a potentially unpleasant conversation is negative. The more we think it will be “difficult”, the more this tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Expect a good outcome instead. Approach the conversation as… an opportunity to clarify, clear the air, find mutually beneficial solutions, repair a damaged relationship, provide constructive feedback or to simply listen to what the other person has to say. Start from a place of respect and stay away from the “blame game” Truth can be subjective and there are often two sides to every story. Aim for respect and ask for respect in return. It is perfectly possible to empathise with someone’s emotional perspective and still agree to disagree. Focus on the facts not feelings; and judge actions, not the person. Look for solutions instead of just seeking to attribute blame Stop worrying about being liked and leave space for reactions Wanting to be liked can get in the way of delivering a tough message and make you nervous about how the other person will respond. You cannot control what the other person says and does, but you...

Spotting inauthentic communicators

It is sad but true – some people are good at pulling the wool over the eyes of others, and many get away with it for a very long time before being caught out. And while it is possible – in the words of the old saying – to fool some of the people some of the time, it is usually very difficult to fool all of the people all of the time. How can you tell? Lack of authenticity is likely to “leak out”, particularly when emotions run high or the situation is stressful. The tell-tale signs are to be found in inappropriate word choice or non-verbal signals that indicate what is really going on in someone’s mind. Here are some signs you can watch for. Many of us are instinctively alerted by them without needing to raise our conscious awareness. Taken individually, they may mean very little but if they stack up and come at you in groups of three, four or more, then there is likely to be some foundation for feeling uneasy. Unnatural repetition and emphasis of the same words: this happens almost as if someone is trying to convince themselves as well as others. Talking excessively and providing too much information: elaboration is sometimes thought to be convincing but too much is suspicious. Mismatched words and non-verbal signals: a disconnect here should sound the alarm bells – the non-verbals are likely to be more trustworthy than the words alone. Too many pauses or delays in responding: we all need a bit of thinking time occasionally but the delay needs to be appropriate in the...

Encourage change at work

Reactive organizations – and the people who work in them – are driven by circumstances and their environment. They are acted upon, rather than taking control and being in control. In a reactive organization, it should come as no surprise to find that people are constantly stressed and putting out fires instead of working together to blaze a path forward. There may be danger or opportunities ahead, but if no one no-one rises above the trees to see if the organisation is heading in the right direction, then you, your colleagues and  your organization will consistently be struggling to face them. What if you changed the way you approach your work so that you’re not constantly being acted upon, but, instead, driving the action? In Stephen Covey’s best selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he encourages people to become more proactive and less reactive. “Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values – carefully thought about, selected, and internalized values. Proactive people are still influenced by external stimuli, whether physical, social, or psychological. But their response to the stimuli, conscious or unconscious, is a value-based choice or response.” Being proactive enables people and organizations to not simply pick the best path, but to also be prepared for opportunities and obstacles along the way. When you make a conscious choice to be proactive at work, you look for ways to take the initiative, to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. An approach like this can ultimately save money, time, and resources;...

Reply and be replied to

“Choice of attention – to pay attention to this and ignore that – is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.” W.H.Auden The Training Box is not alone in noticing that a lot people do not bother to respond to emails anymore. One recent article we came across, sourced from The New York Times, quoted people listing reasons ranging from “Replying will just result in more mail,” to “It’s easier not to reply than to say no.” Clearly, we have to accept that overloaded mailboxes will occasionally result in emails being missed or in delayed responses but not replying should definitely not be “the new no”. In what other communication channel is it acceptable to ignore the person who is reaching out to you without being considered to be impolite or rude? Your email is a reflection of you. Every email you send has the potential to add to your reputation or to damage it. Ignoring any email (other than spam, junk mail or circulars) is much more likely to send out a negative message. 3 very good reasons why you should always reply to your emails Treat others as you would like to be treated. If you ask someone a question or send them an invitation (whether in person or on the telephone or in an email), you expect a reply. How does it make you feel to be ignored and what does it say about you if you ignore others? Replying to requests...

Culture: a simple definition

One definition (Bates and Plog,1990) defines culture as “the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through social learning”. At The Training Box, we like a much simpler definition, “The way we do things around here.” Culture has an impact on every human activity: how we view time, how we organise ourselves, define our purpose, relate to power etc. and it leads to perceptions, beliefs, values, behaviours, norms that may not always be clear to others. We are all culturally unique: every person carries patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour, much of which has been learned or assimilated, starting in childhood.It can be difficult to “unlearn” these things and adapt our communication style and behaviour. Different is different – not necessarily better or worse: cultural orientation can divide or enrich depending upon your ability and inclination to rise to the challenges presented by cross-cultural communication. Remember to be sensitive to cultural variation in your communication!...

The cross-cultural challenge

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He describes the patterns of behaviour that are culturally influenced as the “software of the mind”, a type of collective mental programming. He emphasizes that culture is learned and not inherited and must be distinguished from human nature on the one side and an individual’s personality on the other. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to belong to multiple groups at the same time e.g. to be British, to work for a German company, to be an alumnus of a US university. Whilst we remain the same person in all of these contexts, our behavioral and communication patterns may vary as we adapt to the context of each group. Most cultural characteristics are not absolute but will fall somewhere along a continuum both for the individual and the group in a wide range of categories – some of which have been commonly identified – such as our relationship to identity, time, power, organizations, communication styles and several others. (Rosinski’s Cultural Orientations Framework is particularly helpful here.) Not understanding the differences can of course often give rise to misunderstandings and provoke unexpected or even destructive responses. This is because for many people, the default setting in our programming is to assume different is worse than that with which we are familiar and comfortable. Cultural orientation may start collectively with the group, but the impact is on each of us individually – Cultural orientation can divide or enrich depending upon our ability and inclination to rise to the challenges presented by cross-cultural...