How to sidestep tension while still being heard

As a trained mediator, I have dealt with some very ugly workplace disputes.

They often started with a simple difference in opinion.

How do you stay relaxed when you are discussing difficult topics?

Wading into deep waters and making your thoughts known.

Sometimes making a controversial point.

How do you avoid tension but still remain opinionated?

Staying authentic to your personal brand and core beliefs.

Sharing your experiences.

Being a thought leader.

Respected for your strong opinions.

Even when people disagree with you.

Avoid these pitfalls:

  • Where you feel you are repeating yourself.
  • Conversation runs longer than you thought.
  • Discussion is one way in nature.
  • It doesn't feel constructive.
  • You both have completely different agendas.

If you get caught in a damaging conversation, you will feel your blood pressure boiling and be stuck to the floor.

You need to get out of the conversation but are trapped in fight or flight mode.

"Get me out of here" but you don't budge.

If you are like me, it may not be the first time you have got into an unhealthy conversation with that person.

It may be the same old source of tension with the same old person.

  • A business meeting with your partner.
  • Talking to a board member.
  • An executive meeting.
  • Talking to representatives of another department in your workplace.
  • Defending yourself to your manager.
  • Talking to a colleague.

Rinse and repeat.

Over time I have learnt a few key lessons and developed a mindset that requires real discipline.

  1. Never communicating to win an argument.
  2. To accept that the person you’re talking to may not share your opinion.
  3. They may not be in the same headspace to discuss that topic or any topic with you.
  4. They may not be motivated to act on your advice or your preferred outcome.
  5. Giving feedback but working hard to do it respectfully and only once.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Don't get me wrong, I have lost myself in many unhealthy conversations.

Let my passion for a topic get the best of me.

The trick I have worked hard to master is starting conversations on controversial or difficult topics with 3 subtle but critical ground rules in my mind:

  1. What's the agenda for the conversation?
  2. What's our objective?
  3. How long do we have for the conversation? This is more important than any other factor. Don’t get caught in a looping conversation.

Work very hard to avoid spending too much energy in any conversation. Be efficient. Keep flowing.

Most of the time ground rules will not be necessary.

Particularly, with people that are aligned with you or receptive to changing their mind.

Recognise the scenarios in my blog? See opportunities for cultural growth in your business? David Taubman provides business, career and leadership coaching and training. His proven methods will teach you how to drive culture change from within your organisation. Contact him today for more information.