Managing conflict and having hard conversations at work By Rob Legge, April 2023 This subject of “hard or difficult conversations” is one of the topics that dominates my coaching conversations with leaders of local charities. Managers are called upon to mediate between staff and/or deal with staff and volunteer attitudes, behaviour or performance. For some it is a daunting prospect that needs both emotional intelligence and resilience as well as the application of good organisational policies. I have been re-reading some excellent books about difficult and crucial conversations. These include Vital Conversations by Alec Grimsley, Crucial Conversations by Patterson et al and How to Deal with Difficult People by Gill Hasson. Gill Hasson takes you through this tricky topic in a no nonsense way, with chapter headings such as “Difficult people and their difficult behaviour", “Communicating with difficult people and "Standing up to difficult people.” All of which I have used to generate discussion and practical interactive experiences in a safe training environment. However the chapter that most resonated with me on this occasion was the one entitled “Is it you?” Are you part of the Problem? Gill points out that difficult people are not always difficult to other people and that sometimes we are part of the problem. A discussion about values and the assumptions we bring into the workplace can often be the starting point for conflict. For example when the other person doesn’t demonstrate those values either deliberately or in ignorance. Our responses to these situations can often compound the problem. Either by accepting the situation for now, or indirectly tackling “the problem” through a general discussion or team training in the hope that the one difficult person picks it up. Sometimes we take a direct confrontational approach and deal with the fallout from that. Time for some self-evaluation The best solutions are almost always to do with self-examination. Why aren’t I happy with this person? Does it matter to the results, the team etc? Could this person’s differences be good for the organisation? Then approach with positive expectations. The danger is we often label “difficult” to all aspects of an individual or team’s behaviour and attitude. If you start from a positive stance, you might be surprised at how often the individual is performing no worse than other non-problematic staff and, in some case, better. Can we reframe “hard conversations” into crucial developmental discussions that can turn individuals careers around? Can we tackle the issues in a safe and assertive way that generates discussion and solutions that can often work for both parties. But this takes emotional intelligence, courage and preparation. This is just one aspect that I cover in my training. If you ever wonder “Is it me?”, or know a colleague who might benefit from a day of reflection, training and exposure to new solutions to dealing with difficult conversations the next training course on the topic is on 18th May at BVSC.