How a difficult conversation with someone I didn’t know ended in a good relationship.
Barely a manager for a week in a new job at a new location, I came across an associate for the first time – he was violating company policy.
I was in an awkward position: I hadn’t even met this person yet, and I had to discipline them.
You work a job for years when a new boss, who you haven’t even met yet, comes around the corner and the first thing he says to you is – you can’t do that.
That boss was me.
On top of that, it turned out that he was notoriously confrontational. When I mentioned something he turned to me, puffed out his chest, and gave me the death glare.
What was my instinct?
I am ashamed to admit that the first thing I wanted to do was drop it, to act like it never happened, and let him go about his business. But I have been in similar situations before. I knew that if I let it go, I would lose his respect completely. And a leader without respect can’t lead.
So, I didn’t back down.
Instead, I broke the tension.
“Hi, we haven’t met before, my name is Daniel and I am the new Assistant Manager” I gave a friendly smile and stuck out my hand. He was still heated, but he shook it.
I put a name to a face and added a friendly interaction. I effectively disarmed him and simmered the tension between us.
I did not give him something to fight. I took the punch, and now he was off-balance.
“Sorry we got off on the wrong foot, I must look like an asshole.”
He nodded. “No one has ever said anything to me before”
He kept up his guard, but his chest was a little less puffed and his stare a little less intense.
I wanted him to know that I was aware of how it looked; that I was empathetic to how he felt. I wanted him to know that I understood- yet I still said something.
I followed up by explaining ‘Why’ – I explained why the policy was in place, why I had to enforce it, and why, if I didn’t, there could be consequences. Why, why, why.
“Fine.” He said, finally giving in.
But it wasn’t over yet.
Not long afterward, we passed each other in the hallway. I said hello. He stared at the ground and proceeded to aggressively open a door and slam it behind him. It was uncomfortable.
Again, I wanted to ignore it in the hope that it would go away, but, again, I knew it wouldn’t. Next time I saw him, I told myself, I would do something about it.
A little later I saw him working. He was still wearing an aggravated look on his face, but I approached him.
“Hey, you seem a little heated. I’m sorry if I upset you.”
Instantaneously his pout became a smile. “It’s okay, my temper can get the better of me sometimes. I know you were just doing your job.”
It went better than I hoped.
I thanked him for understanding, apologized for getting off on the wrong foot, and told him I looked forward to working with him in the future. I asked him if there was anything he needed from me. He said no, and thanked me for taking the time out to see if he was okay.
No one likes having difficult conversations, but dwelling and ignoring them is far worse. Anything can happen in your imagination, and usually, we imagine the worst things possible. We sit around stressed knowing we are not dealing with the issue, and sometimes it gets so bad that we dread going to work. It’s not worth it.
Here are 4 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations:
1. Deal with things in the moment.
Don’t wait to deal with it another time. It will only stress you out, and you may not regain the courage to handle it at all.
2. Don’t Back Down
Don’t back down but don’t butt egos. Diffuse the tension by being empathetic – recognize how they might feel and how they might perceive the situation. Tell them that you understand.
3. Be Tactful
Explain to them Why – no one likes the response “because I said so”.
4. Always follow up
Make sure that there are no hard feelings and keep the lines of communication open. Checking in on people goes a long way to diffuse future problems.
I’m sure there are difficult conversations that you have been putting off. What are they? What’s keeping you from having them? I’d love to hear from you – comment below.
Check out my latest Guest Post on Unfinished Success: 5 Quotes to Develop a Successful Mindset