Most employees feel frustrated or discouraged as some point in their workday.  “This is a common scenario,” says Helene Vermaak, Director at The Human Edge, “and we have found common reasons for this are that they disagree with their boss, don’t support the suggestion of a colleague or possess different views from the vocal majority.”

Despite feeling like this, employees still fail to share their opinions in a way that generates results.  Most people remain silent because they feel that it is ‘politically’ unwise to disagree with the majority or the authority.  “By constantly not sharing your opinion, you will eventually lose your temper and will find yourself moving between a silent and violent position,” says Vermaak.

The majority of people veer to silence, as we tend to dread crucial conversations.  Vermaak describes a crucial conversation as an interaction where the stakes are high, opinions differ and emotions run strong.  “We fear these discussions because experience has shown that if we are emotional and honest, bad outcomes are likely to occur and hence we go to silence,” says Vermaak.  At other times, due to a lack of skills to hold crucial conversations, we veer towards a violent approach.  We speak up and draw from a mediocre skillset and use sarcasm, caustic humour, guilt trips and other forms of verbal violence.  We then realise that we are in trouble for having said something and pull back into silent mode.

By employing the skills of crucial conversations at work, we can elevate our capacity to influence decisions, improve relationships and speak our mind in a way that is heard.  Vermaak provides the following six tips that can be used to help make your life better at work:

  1. Reverse Your Thinking. Usually we decide to speak up by considering the risks of doing so. Those best at holding crucial conversations don’t consider the risks of speaking up but rather consider the risks of not speaking up. They realise if they don’t share their views, they will have to live with the poor decisions that will be made because of holding back their informed opinions.
  2. Stop Talking. When you recognise a crucial conversation, stop talking. The way you handle the conversation will have a big impact on your relationship and the results. Think through what is being said and how it’s being said and don’t give in to the fight or flight reflex.
  3. Ask Yourself One Question. The problem with crucial conversations is strong emotions. The brain shuts down and we react instead of thinking through how to respond. Ask yourself a question: What do I really want? What problem am I trying to solve? What relationship do I want when this conversation is over? Use this question to focus and diffuse your strong emotions.
  4. Make It Safe. Have you ever noticed how some conversations – even about very risky subjects can go very well? And others, perhaps even about trivial disagreements, can degenerate into combat or retreat? The antidote to defensiveness in crucial conversations is to make it safe. People can listen to tough feedback as long as they feel safe with the person providing it. Create safety by helping others understand that you care about their interests as much as you care about your own and let others know you respect them. Mutual purpose and mutual respect are the foundation of a safe environment.
  5. The key to influence is empathy. Before starting a crucial conversation, influential leaders think about how the problems they want to raise are affecting, or will affect, the other person. Consider the consequences of the situation for the other person and reassure them that these consequences always exist.
  6. Invite Dialogue. After you create a safe environment, confidently share your views and then invite differing opinions. Those who are best at crucial conversations aren’t just out to make their point; they want to learn. If you are open to hearing others’ points of view, they will be more open to yours.

Vermaak says that she is not suggesting that if you apply the above tips that people will naturally give you everything you want. “However, your influence will increase as rather than contributing to problems by “acting out” your concerns, you’ll be talking them out instead – and this approach gives you the potential for a solution.”