Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Crucial Applications: Office Haunting—How to Have Scary Conversations at Work

Across the U.S., employees are haunted by something scary and destructive—and it’s not ghosts and goblins. According to our research, more than 70 percent of people run in fear from a scary conversation with their boss, coworker, or direct report.

Respondents shared examples of the four scariest conversations at work:

  1. Bad behavior: “I had to tell my manager that my supervisor was a terrible leader and doing long‐term damage to the company.”
  2. Obnoxious behavior: “My coworker was meddling in my life and criticizing my children. She actually said my daughter looked like a hooker.”
  3. Illegal activity: “An executive accused me of changing a document after he had signed it.”
  4. Performance reviews: “I had to explain to my direct report that his intentions/actions were not being well received by staff, and that it would hurt his credibility to continue on that path.”

But these conversations don’t have to be scary. Follow these tips for approaching and conquering scary conversations about bad behavior:

  • Talk face‐to‐face and in private. Don’t chicken out by reverting to e‐mail or phone.
  • Assume the best of others. Perhaps the other person is unaware of the effects of his or her actions. Enter the conversation as a curious friend rather than an angry co‐worker.
  • Use tentative language. Describe the problem by saying, “I’m not sure you’re intending this . . .” or “I’m not even sure you’re aware. . .”
  • Share facts not conclusions. Not only are conclusions possibly wrong, they also create defensiveness. Say, “In the last two meetings you laughed at my suggestion. I expect people to disagree, but . . .”
  • Invite dialogue. Next, ask if he or she sees the problem differently. If you are open to hearing others’ points of view, they’ll be more open to yours.
You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

1 thought

  1. Michele

    I’ve been in management for 20+ years. Eight+ years ago, my then employer provided Crucial Conversations / Confrontational Conversations training, and both of those books sit on my bookshelf, and get pulled out before any crucial conversation.

    I’ve been acknowledged repeatedly as an exceptional leader, and I have no doubt that these books, along with Dr. Covey’s books, are a big reason as to why.

    But sometimes, my friend, this approach can come back to bite you. I recently had a problem employee, and at the end of the day, the fact that I used those steps (the five above) against me, ended up in me being fired and him being promoted.

    I’m confident in my own mind that there is nothing that I could have done differently, and the fact that his blatant, proven lies were considered acceptable while the fact that I was unaware that he was lying, and that I used “soft” language in dealing with him meant that I was fired, well.. I didn’t want to work for that type of company anyway, so I took my severance package and went away.

    It was a hard lesson to learn though.

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