Webinar presenter Amy Morgan answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Difficult Conversations. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: How would you deal with someone who is very toxic, very negative or just doesn’t care anymore?
Amy Morgan: I’m going to assume that we are talking in the workplace, maybe? In the workplace, it depends. Because I am a trained therapist I would say let’s see if we can work with this person. Even as a manager, I would want to know why is the person is toxic, why have they turned negative? If they used to be positive and now they are being negative I would want to sit the person down and the first conversation would be what’s changed and why. Or, “These are things that I observed. You used to come in early and you used to work hard; now, you’ve just turned negative, now you show up late. I can tell by the way you dress that you don’t care anymore and you leave early.” If they are just spreading rumors, I mean there’s a whole lot of ways to be toxic, I would want to know why they are that way. Give them an opportunity to express. They may be angry at something and they are just carrying that around and they are resenting something, resenting everyone, blaming someone for something. I would try to figure out what that is. Then try to correct that with that person. Again, you’re just going to sit down and say, “Okay this is the situation tell me all about it.” Put it on them. “How do you propose we fix this?” Don’t try to fix everything yourself. I used to have a rule when I managed teams. I would say, “Don’t bring me problems without also bringing me potential solutions.” I would say, “Alright you know how else; how do you propose you fix these things that are making you be this way?” If it’s just the person’s personality, I’m pretty torn. I would basically try to see if we can fix the problem first. If not, if they are ruining the team or they’re having a negative effect on the rest of the team, they may not have a place on your team anymore. It’s like a bad tomato in your vegetable drawer. You can’t put a bad tomato in a bunch of great fruit; the great fruit will turn the bad ones better? The bad ones are going to turn all the good ones bad. That’s how I see people as well. At some point, you are going to make a decision about whether the person should stay or not. I would first try to figure out what’s going on with the person.
Audience Question: As a supervisor what is the best way to address an employee that is disrespectful and doesn’t treat you as a supervisor?
Amy Morgan: I would first again try to find out why. If someone’s not treating their supervisor respectfully there’s going to be a reason behind that. They are going to be for many reasons. They think they should have your job or they think they are smarter than you or they don’t like something you do. There’s going to be a reason. They may or may not share that with you. I would first try to find out the reason for that behavior. Secondly, as a supervisor, I would move on to the next step of outlining my expectations which is, even if you don’t agree with everything that I do or that I think there is a hierarchy here. Some of you just have to do what you have to do at work and being respectful to your peers, a supervisor or equal peers is a workplace expectation of mine, on my team, in my department, in my company. Disagree all you want to but be respectful, and if that’s just not in your capability, that’s part of this job and you probably aren’t designed for this job or this team. I’m pretty harsh about it though.
Audience Question: Is it okay to take notes during a difficult discussion?
Amy Morgan: Absolutely. You want to make sure you are paying attention. Notes are important. I’m almost 53, I don’t remember anything. If I want to remember things, I’m going to have to scribble notes. Typing on your laptop may not be the best way to do it because that seems like you are doing your email while you are having a discussion. Just take brief notes, little reminders, jot it down things that will help you, that you can maybe type out in expanded form later. It does help in a way if you say ahead of time, “I’m going to be taking notes just so I don’t forget anything. Is that okay?” Again, do it in a respectful way. Jot down those notes. Don’t keep them like a secret. Don’t be like a doctor with the clipboard where you are not showing it. Just jot down reminders. Those are going to be key points and the things that you are going to reiterate later. Basically, you are just writing down what you are going say verbally anyway. You are not writing things like this guy is really a jerk. You are writing things that matter into the conversation. I would say yes. Just make it a point that “Hey, by the way, I’m going to be taking some notes just so I make sure we don’t forget anything.”
Audience Question: Yes, I also think creating a plan will help with my difficult conversations. How do I overcome my fear of having it?
Amy Morgan: That’s an anxiety reduction thing. I have classes on how to reduce anxiety. You can Google it. Just Google how to reduce anxiety. Breathe deeply. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to do things that are difficult. Think of it as anything you do have to do in life that you don’t enjoy doing, that you just have to make yourself do. Make yourself do the hard things. The first time that you do it, it’s going to be anything. Bungee jumping, jumping out of the airplane. It’s hard and scary, the unknown is hard the first time. The more that you practice, the more you do it, the more comfortable it gets, the better you get at it. Practice with people in your family. Practice in the mirror. However you have to do it, practice it so it’s not the first time you are addressing this conversation with this person. It feels a little bit more comfortable that way. Just do some anxiety reducing things beforehand. Breathing slow and deeply is one really that works well
Aaron: A comment from the audience, in the domestic violence world, to control emotions we always say to speak lower and slower.
Audience Question: What should I do when the conversation takes longer than it should and your time just doesn’t permit it but you are also trying not to be mean to the other person?
Amy Morgan: Easy. If you have allocated an hour or half an hour and you can see that this person needs a little more time or the discussion deserves a little more time, say, “You know, we’re out of time right now.” Just say to them, “I think, this conversation deserves another opportunity. Let’s schedule it tomorrow at 2. Let’s resume where we left off now.” You can always come back and continue where you left off. You don’t have to try to wrap it up in a time constraint if that’s not working. Just keep trying. It may be that the ongoing discussion solves a lot of problems because you are going to have overnight to think about it. You are going to have new ideas. You resume fairly quickly. Don’t say next month, in next month’s staff meeting or whatever. Make it fairly quick so there’s continuity to the conversation.
Audience Question: What are your tips for dealing with passive-aggressive people? People that you have conversations with, make agreements on outcomes and get feedback but purposely they think that to fail to follow you or even do the opposite?
Amy Morgan: That’s why I said put consequences and be very clear about them. This is your action item; this is what I expect from you. Set expectations and this is what will happen if this isn’t followed through. You have to follow through with that. If you are kind of a softie and you’re like, “Well I said I was going to do this but I just don’t think I can do that,” don’t say you are going to do it then. That does get bad. Someone says, “Yeah, I’d totally do that,” and you know that they are not going to, tell them what’s going to happen if that does not follow through. Try to remove the passive-aggressive option out of that. Just be very clear and say this is the expectation. This is the consequence. Black and white. Cut and dry. There is no gray area there.
Audience Question: How do you get two people to talk to each other rather than going through me all the time?
Amy Morgan: Back to my counseling days, basically it’s essentially forcing that. I do mediation as well. I do like Supreme court, civil mediation, that’s the thing. People can’t seem to talk straight to each other or it’s more comfortable to go through a third party. Sometimes it is. Sometimes that’s required. It depends on the situation. It’s helpful to have a third party there as a facilitator. You might want to start in that situation and say, “You two people come into my office” or, Aaron, “You two boys sit down in front of me,” and you be the facilitator. A facilitator is different than a participant. A facilitator is not the third person in a three-person discussion. It’s saying okay you take a turn; you say your side. Okay, stop talking. You take a turn and you say your side. You literally are just facilitating back and forth discussion for two people who don’t seem to be able. You are also not a judge. When I do mediation, I can’t decide. I can’t make the decisions for the two people. I have to bring them to a decision between the two of them. I would say you want 500 dollars for this fence and you want 3000. What are you willing to give? What are you willing to give? And they both say nothing and you say we’re going to meet somewhere in the middle. It’s not going to be fifty-fifty it’s going to be somewhere between the two of you. Let’s try again. You facilitate between the two of them. If you do it enough, you start removing yourself from it little by little. It’s a gradual teaching training method. Little by little you start getting them to say okay what would you tell your brother here? What would you tell your co-worker here? What would you like to say back to your co-worker? A little bit, they get more comfortable speaking to each other instead of to you even though you’re facilitating, you are making them look at each other across the table and speak to each other.
Audience Question: Is it possible to have a group difficult conversation? Do you have suggestions and tips for doing this?
Amy Morgan: Yes. An intervention is a good example of that. You have multiple people in a room, usually, it’s one person that’s the focus but there could be one situation that’s the focus. This is the epitome of family, a group with some issues, right? You basically have everyone in the room and there’s again a therapy technique. Get a ball. Get a tennis ball. Hand somebody the ball and say whoever has the ball gets to speak and it seems kind of goofy at first but it calms the situation and it eliminates that cross talk or three side conversations going on at the same time. Again it’s helpful to have a facilitator and just say okay we are going to start with this. We’re going to have a whiteboard and say okay hand the ball to this person and say what are your thoughts on this? Just briefly something I can put on the whiteboard. Then that person hands the ball to that next person. Quickly, what is your thought? Give me one sentence. Make sure everybody has a chance to say something, keep them brief. You can always go back and forth and answer questions and expound on things, that sort of thing. Give everyone a chance to speak. Make everyone be respectful of everyone else. It takes facilitation. Sometimes, especially, if emotions are high, it takes a lot of okay let’s calm down, let’s take a five-minute break. Everybody just go, and calm. Let’s come back in here. The rule is for this everyone must remain calm. This sounds idealistic. You have to set boundaries; you have to set the rules in order to enforce the rules or the boundaries. If you don’t set them, set an expectation that there is no expectation so it’s an attempt to try to set expectations. Give everyone a chance to speak. Let everyone be heard. Tell everyone to be respectful. Be as fair as possible. Just keep taking turns until some sort of resolution or at least until everybody feels like they were heard.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Difficult Conversations.