Learnings from a Coach: Six Tips for Earning Trust by Navigating Naturally Occurring Conflict Well
So, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk with you about for a while now. Something that’s really important. But we wouldn’t want any bad feelings, so maybe I shouldn’t say anything. But I want you to trust me and I want you to think that I’m a good manager so we should talk about this issue that’s sending ripples through the department. That’s what a good leader would do and I want you to want me as your leader. So, there’s this really difficult situation that we need to resolve. But…
Ever have a boss like that, a boss who – let’s be blunt – was afraid to be the boss? Did you trust that boss? Learn anything from him or her? Is that person still your boss or did you move on, looking for someone who would actually lead?
As a leadership/executive coach, I’ve heard variations of this scenario many, many times. In fact, I think I’d have fewer clients if corporate managers would just up their game in how they handle naturally occurring conflict.
Keep in mind that at work, like everywhere else, people are looking for someone they can trust, someone they can talk with authentically about workplace issues and not worry about collateral damage. You would hope these conversations would be with their supervisor but, in reality, many of these people hire an outside coach and pay for the service themselves if the cost is not built into their company’s development plan. Why not simply talk to their supervisor? It comes down to trust.
Trust is at the core of everything we do and the ability to earn trust is a core competency for supervisors. What I’m hearing from clients these days reinforces what I saw over my 35-year career in corporate Human Resources: for the most part, supervisors just don’t like conflict and avoid it whenever they can. Instead of having that tough conversation straight out, they dance around the edges with statements like “well, this is difficult for me,” or “I know you don’t like conflict,” or “it really isn’t a big deal, but…,” etc.
These are weasel words that won’t inspire confidence or trust in you. How do I know? From the criticisms my clients share about how their bosses have handled difficult conversations. While so many people dislike and find ways to avoid difficult conversations, and the word “conflict” causes most people to step back and pause, it turns out that employees actually want their bosses to engage on the tough subjects. They just want them to do it in the right way.
So, here are six suggestions for dealing with rather than avoiding tough conversations that apply to your interactions with your employees and also with your peers in your company:
- Appreciate that knowing the truth is important. Put aside the worry that “they might not like me anymore” and help them grow in their career.
- Allow yourself to open up and be a bit vulnerable; perhaps share a story of a time when you had an issue similar to the one you are now outlining.
- Listen to the other person. So many issues today come from hearsay and innuendo. It’s easy to dislike someone you don’t know and have heard bad things about. But, if you listen to them, have an open and honest conversation, you may find they are more than what was said about them.
- Say what you are thinking, with the caution to choose words carefully and think through what you plan to say before you engage in the conversation. You don’t have to be harsh or edgy with the words you choose, and don’t allow yourself to be pushed into a war of words. A spirited conversation is fine; a negative and mean-spirited one is not.
- Have conversations in the moment. People who avoid conflict defer the conversation as long as possible. That often just makes it more difficult as your dread grows and as a situation escalates.
- Decide in advance the outcome you seek. Don’t just have the conversation and hope for a great outcome. Steer the conversation toward a positive result.
You know it’s true: people leave people, not companies. In the book Winning, Jack Welch said “if someone who works for you does not know where they stand, you have no right to be their supervisor.” If you, as their supervisor, avoid conflict and aren’t honest because you don’t want conflict and are worried about hurt feelings, then your employees won’t know where they stand with you. In the long run, you’ll lose respect and the trust just won’t be there. Without that trust, you lose.
I encourage you to keep your conversations with your employees real; don’t avoid difficult talks. If you focus on conversations as productive two-way dialogues instead of awkward, unpleasant situations, everyone wins and your employees are more likely to stay with you because they will trust you.
Want to continue this dialogue? The Maul Group is skilled at helping people get comfortable with difficult conversations through group and individual sessions. Visit themaulgroup.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or a free consultation.