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Become A Confident Communicator

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Handling conflict in the ‘hot seat’ at work

Moments when there is no time to plan, someone fires something at you,a customer is yelling at you, someone explodes at work, etc… You still have time to choose a response rather than react, here are some of my coaching tips and strategies I share with my clients.
Ever been in a moment of conflict where someone is up in your face, or they say something that takes you by surprise and you react badly or in a way that you wish you had not?
On occasion, I have walked away from an interaction thinking I should have said this, I shouldn’t have said that, sometimes even having to go back and apologise to the person for my reaction.
Fortunately, with a few tools and practice this happens less and less.
Much of the training I have done in this space is with those who are in the front line of this type of conflict daily, grumpy customers, toxic behavior in the office, public consultation meetings etc..
They are the situations that are often un predictable, where so many of the tools we teach in how to manage conflict go out the window because:
1. We are human and our brains are wired to ‘react’ to triggers almost automatically
2. Our thinking brain shuts down in stressful or frightening situations
3. We can easily react in a way that mirrors the way the other person is being
4. We can get defensive and quickly take things way to personally sometimes
So how to I teach people to handle this type of conflict?
The first thing I do is to talk about the brain science stuff, simply put there is time between stimulus and response.
A great quote to remind us of this comes from, Viktor Emil Frankl, who was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor.
I reckon if can harness this ability in those situations so can we in everyday life.
“Between stimulus (what is happening) and response (our response to that situation) there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Next, I talk about applying the principals of PAUSE:
P – Perceptions
Talk a moment to acknowledge that everyone’s perception is their reality, this helps with taking away from the need or desire to be right. This includes you, your perception about a situation or person is your current reality, but perhaps it is different from theirs.
A – Allow at least 10 seconds
In this 10 seconds – count to 10 in your head, breath and ask yourself a question to re-engage your thinking brain. Here are some examples or you can come up with your own.
· Is this person really angry with me or just the situation?
· Is there something else I would like to understand about this person and why they are behaving like they are?
· What am assuming about this situation and what is the truth?
U – Understand your feelings
Am I feeling angry, threatened, embarrassed, sad etc…what information are those emotions or feelings giving me and is it useful information in this situation or just a personal reaction?
S – Stay in the moment and on topic
What is the issue at hand, is it personal or am I just taking it personally?
What are the facts about the situation?
Removing the personal stuff from an issue can help you stay focused on what is important and help you formulate a better response
E – Entertain your options
You have options! You don’t have to respond or react right then and there, sometimes you can breathe and ask to come back to them or talk to them in a break or after a meeting, or have a one on one meeting to discuss further.
One you have your thinking brain back in play you can often think of ways to respond. A Mayor who was in my training once said the best thing he learned to do was just to listen, let the person go for it, take a seat and practice genuine listening skills, eventually they will slow down and stop being angry and if you are not on the defensive attack with them they will not be in battle mode any more either. He said you may not be able to do anything about the situation but at least you have validated how they feel and made them feel valued and important, which completely changed the behavior and dynamic moving forward.
Here are some examples:
  • I see you are quite upset about this situation, am I able to set up a time to catch up with you when I can better respond to your request?
  • I understand you are upset about this situation, however while you are shouting, I am unable to help you get to the bottom of it or come up with a solution.
  • I am really keen to understand this situation better, perhaps you can tell me about what has happened so we can maybe come up with some ideas together
Or you can make up your own to suit your situation
Feel free to take my short FREE online course here
A couple of final thoughts to encourage you on your way
1. We are always at choice – we have the power to choose our responses and our words
2. Practice changes habits, communication is a habit, some of our habits don’t serve us well, so practice, practice, practice the new muscles you want to build in that space.
Have fun with trying new ways of responding and I would love to hear how you get on.
Nga mihi

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People leave stinky culture and poor managers/leaders – NOT jobs

We know this, we have seen the quotes right! How, as leaders, do we change this?

Here are my thoughts/tips/ideas – Leader to leader, manager to manager – from one who has lived, and learned on my own journey.

Statistics say:

In a survey of 2,000 employees, almost half (43%) said they are looking for a new job, and corporate culture was the main reason.

Corporate culture is absolutely everyone’s responsibility uphold, but it is driven by the leaders, and good communication is at the core of good corporate culture.

Let’s get visual for a moment because I think in pictures:

Imagine a lovely pool of clean water, full of healthy fish and water life, and leading into this pool is a spring that comes from the hills above, this spring feeds the pool at the bottom.

What happens when that spring starts being contaminated with dirt, animal waste, chemicals etc?

Well, that is obvious, the pool becomes toxic, the life that was in there starts to either get sick, or die, the pool is dirty and full of poison and the ONLY way to fix it is to look at what is feeding into the pool.

What I see a lot of, is leaders and managers wanting their people to have better communication skills, they want the team ‘fixed’ but are at times unwilling to look at the ‘spring’ coming in from the top, it may not be them directly it may be above them, it doesn’t matter, the people in the team will just tar ‘management’ with the same brush.

The way we speak to others, the way we treat others, the way we value others, the vibe we bring are all part of the work place culture picture.

The impact of not being truthful.

Leaders may not see anything wrong with telling the odd lie or bending the truth. They may think they are protecting people from the ‘scary facts’, they may think they are helping the team stay focused on the job, keeping moral up, and a number of other reasons for ‘bending the truth’ but here’s the BAD news!

When leaders don’t tell the truth it can:

  • Lead to unrest, people make up their own versions of the truth with the bits they do know
  • Lead to lack of trust, people become more distracted because they don’t know for sure
  • Lead to lack of respect, people think the leader doesn’t respect them enough or think they are smart enough to tell them the truth
  • Erode any good culture that there might have been

People know they are lying, they know they are bending the truth, they know they are not telling them what is really going on!

When this is happening, despite the intentions, people will stop trusting their leader/manager and they will stop listening.

One of the tell-tale signs that a leader are out of integrity is, there is a mismatch between what they say and what they do.

This causes lack of trust, which leads to lack of engagement, which leads to lack of productivity and loyalty!

The GOOD news – you can win back trust if it has been broken, people can make a decision to trust, or not, in the blink of an eye.

My tips for managers and leaders when they are struggling with the symptoms of a poor work culture:

  • Tell the truth with compassion and consideration of the impact – use the delivery method that is most appropriate to what is needing to be said.

Even if you don’t have all the facts, tell them what you know or tell them you don’t know but you will find out what you can tell them, and then follow through.

  • Line up your actions with your words – if you can’t deliver don’t say you can

If you are going to tell them you will get some information and get back to them, do it. Don’t leave people hanging on false promises. Be careful what you promise people, make sure you can deliver what you tell them you can.

  • Be vulnerable first – show your human side, this is a STRENGTH

I am not talking about baring all, talking about your personal life at length etc, I am talking about being authentic, real and in the trenches ‘with’ your team, this even relates to admitting when you don’t know something. Vulnerability can be shown so many ways and still keep relationships professional

  • Be prepared to get in the trenches with your team

Muck in, get back in touch, even if you have been where they have in the past, they may have forgotten this or not seen it for a while or at all, be prepared to work where they are, do what they do. Get along side them, value their input, views and opinions.

Final thoughts on culture:

  • Be open as a leader to lifelong learning, and open to learning from your team members as much as through courses, books and other leaders
  • Learn to communicate well, be prepared to be uncomfortable and vulnerable
  • Lead the cultural change, put time, energy and resources into it. When workplaces have great cultures that are intentionally nurtured, people stay, people perform at their very best and drive projects and outcomes.

If you want to find out where you currently sit with your own communication skills as a leader, take my 5 min ‘communication skills assessment’ here online.

It is a great benchmark for understanding where your skills are great and where they may need improvement.

Take the assessment here for managers and leaders

** If you are a team member wanting to find out where your skills are at take the assessment for professionals here

Talk soon


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Often, assumptions can be at the core of most conflict and angst, we can assume too much or too little about a person, or situation.

Instead of assumptions I have taken to applying a new habit, asking questions. It just cuts through so much potential time wasted on making the wrong assumptions. I have written some of the questions I use often to gain better understanding about situations I encounter, below.

I have found a good assumption to make is:

Everyone is doing the best they can, with the information, time and resources they have available right now. Including myself.

Once you assume that about someone or a situation, it gives you the freedom to look at anything from a new perspective, from that place of new perspective you can ask a KEY question or two, to move to a place of better understanding.

Some questions you can ask for greater clarity:

“May I ask what you meant when you said……?”

“I would love to know what you are thinking or how you are feeling about that?”

“Is there something else you would like me to know about this situation that may help me get a better understanding of it?”

“Is there something I can do to help you out with that?”

“What do you need right now from me or anyone else?”

“So I can get this in the right priority, what is your expected deadline for this?”

“Are you happy with……?”

“Is there something I can improve about……?”

Seek understanding not judgement. By understanding a person or situation better it doesn’t mean you agree or take sides, what it does is open the doors of good communication and this can lead to a higher level of trust, less pain and better productivity.

Here is to less assumptions, more understanding