On Friday 8th July, GRA’s Joe Mackintosh and Jane Hodgson presented ‘How to speak up when feeling threatened’ a 1-hour webinar that provided viewers with an insight into the skills required to prevent relationships from breaking down when you feel like you’re under attack at work.

For example, you might be presenting to a team of senior colleagues on a new project when one person is suddenly dismissive and picking apart your ideas. How would that make you feel? How would you react?

Perhaps you’re frustrated, angry, deflated or even concerned that you’re being targeted. When this happens, we naturally believe we have two choices: to say nothing or defend ourselves – fight or flight. We call this choosing ‘silence or violence’.

We choose silence because we don’t want to make matters worse, to create conflict or damage the relationship with other people in the room. Alternatively, we choose violence because we don’t want our good ideas to go unheard, we don’t want to be seen as a pushover or we resent negative feedback from this particular colleague. Either way, we fail to consider the third option: healthy and honest dialogue.

How can you enter into effective dialogue?

Before we can enter into dialogue, we need to take a good look at ourselves and be aware that the conversation has turned ‘crucial’ for us. We know a conversation has turned crucial when three elements come together: opposing opinions, strong emotions and high stakes. In the context of the presentation, the person is disagreeing with your ideas (opposing opinions), you feel hurt and under attack by how quickly they dismissed your suggestion (strong emotions) and the project is vital to meeting this year’s KPIs (high stakes).

Once we recognise that the conversation has turned crucial, we need to be aware of our motives. If your motive for responding is to win the debate or put the other person in their place, it is unhealthy and unproductive. If your motive is to understand why they feel the way they do or to create alignment about the ideas being put forward this is far more productive, both for the meeting and the relationship.

To get our motives right, we need to consider what we really want for ourselves, for the other person and for the relationship. We also need to consider what our mutual purpose is – what shared goals or objectives are we working towards?

The next step to entering healthy and honest dialogue is to STATE your path:

Share the facts – What have you seen, heard and experienced? It is important to start with the facts as they’re objective and indisputable.

Tell your story – Based on the evidence you are aware of, how did this make you feel? What assessment have you made about the situation?

Ask for their opinion – Perhaps, there are facts you’re unaware of. Allow them to share their version of events.

Talk tentatively – when we use hyperbole or absolutes we increase the likelihood of a negative response. Share your concerns in a manner that shows you’re willing to be challenged.

Encourage testing – be prepared to be proved wrong and have the other person challenge your assertions and stories.

Just because you’re ready to engage in dialogue, doesn’t mean the other person is. Perhaps they’re now feeling threatened or unsafe. You must learn to look for signs that they’re heading towards silence or violence – behavioural, emotional and physiological. The quicker you notice that they’re raising their voice, withdrawing or becoming confrontational, the quicker you can restore safety by stepping out of content and reiterating your positive intent – to align on a mutual purpose.

Once safety is restored and you have had a crucial conversation, it is essential to agree what happens next - who does what, by when? To master crucial conversations, it is just as important to agree the follow up and hold one another accountable for it as it is to be more effective at maintaining dialogue.

To learn more about how to handle crucial conversations effectively and speak up when you’re feeling threatened, follow the link to download a free copy of our recent webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/7402842840828847361

By Georgia Allen

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