For years I’ve taught people how to deliver tough messages to coworkers. Lately I’ve started to wonder if I’ve been working on the wrong end of the conversation.
When I ask people why they aren’t willing to speak up, they’ll tell me, “I just don’t know what to say.” I suspect for many that’s just not true.
The reason they don’t bring up concerns isn’t a lack of skills on how to say something just right. Maybe the problem is the lack of skill people have in how to receive a tough message.
There are times when I want to say something but don’t because I fear one of the following reactions:
- They deny.
- They defend.
- They blame the problem on something or someone else.
- They attack.
- They report me for “picking on them.”
- They bad mouth me to other coworkers.
- They yell.
- They minimize my feelings.
- They pout.
- They go cold and ignore me.
To be approachable you need to act approachable
The more helpful responses are easy to identify and hard to do, but I know you can do them. When someone comes at you with tough feedback, fight off your emotional response and try these instead:
- Thank them for sharing their concern with you.
- Assume the person has good intentions in talking to you about the concerns.
- Ask questions to increase your understanding.
- Show you are listening with your body language.
- Paraphrase what the person is telling you.
- Apologize if warranted.
- Overlook the other person’s lack of skills in message delivery.
- Reflect on what you hear.
- Engage in a manner that communicates your desire to work things out.
- Take some action to demonstrate your willingness to make appropriate changes.
- Disagree with respect.
If you want your coworkers to talk to you, make it easy for them. Once you’ve established a pattern that shows you welcome the conversation, you will earn their trust, and they will talk to you about their concerns.
That’s a far better outcome than you never knowing what people are thinking or them feeling more comfortable sharing their concerns with others instead.