November 27, 2014

Did You Know That Wrong Conversations Rule Workplace Communication?

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workplace communications

There’s a new concept, The 4 Workplace Conversations, which came out of a recent client case study from facilitating a training session to help a senior leadership team of a clients confront issues directly in a way that reduced workplace conflict.

This workplace communication model is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month. It’s application has an even deeper one than originally realized.

You may want to revisit the original article with this graphic representation of The 4 Workplace Conversations model to get a general understanding. This article will focus on the conversation causing the biggest challenge in workplaces today.

You will find it represented in the lower right quadrant of the model, identified as The Wrong Conversation with the Right Person.

wrong conversations

There are two primary ways The Wrong Conversation with the Right Person plays out in the workplace.

One is the “hijacked” conversation and the other is the “elephant in the room” conversation. Conceptually, you may be more familiar with the latter than the former, although chances are you have experienced both in your workplace communication.

Hijacked Conversations

These situations occur in two contexts. One is where an individual is speaking with a superior with a very strong personality, communication style, and agenda.

Often, the subordinate feels intimidated, so despite having a strong need and desire to discuss a certain topic, they allow the superior to control the conversation.

When this occurs, the subordinate leaves without having been able to neither make their point(s), nor get their workplace needs met, and they become frustrated and confused about their value to the organization.

The other context is on the other side of workplace performance. This is where someone is speaking with a subordinate or a peer about his or her individual performance, behavior or actions in need of correction. It may be the “constructive feedback” type of conversation.

Whichever it is, what occurs here is that the other person in conversation goes on a rambling tangent of blame, excuses and distraction.

Some are so good at this “wrong conversation” it creates uncertainty about what really occurred, creating so much confusion you decide to walk away without resolution.

Both of these “wrong conversations” are missed opportunities because the work up to the conversation takes a lot of time and energy. Sometimes getting the conversation on the calendar of the “right person” is a long time developing.

Once that appointment is complete, both sides assume the conversation that was supposed to take place, has, and revisiting it becomes difficult.

I call these “credibility and confidence killing conversations” because the person who does not get to make their point is at risk of losing credibility with the right person, while also reconciling in their own mind what happened. Often, these conversations cause a questioning of confidence and damage self-esteem.

The Elephant in the Room

The other “wrong conversation with the right person” is when the right people are in the room, aware of situations that need addressing but due to the sensitivity of the topic and fear of reactions, the topic is ignored or avoided.

These, like the hijacked conversations, are missed opportunities.

The more one coaches, consults and trains organizational leaders and their employees on workplace communication, the more prevalent you find these “wrong conversations.”

These “wrong conversations with the right person” are very difficult to identify and often, people do not even realize the wrong conversation is taking place until it’s too late.

Communication Photo via Shutterstock

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5 Reactions

  1. While I do see the value of having the right conversation with the right person. This is quite hard to achieve all the time. After all, as you are not productive all the time, you cannot expect everyone to have the right conversations all the time.

  2. I totally agree with Aira that the importance of right conversation is equally important but many a times it becomes difficult to always speak to the right group of people. But efforts needs to be made towards making the right things get heard by the correct group of people.

  3. What do you think that the auto-maker, BMW, would think about the “wrong” quadrant with the acronym, BMW, standing for: “bitching, moaning, whining”?! ;)

  4. Thank you for all your comments about this topic as this is my model created after the client session last year I wrote about.

    I agree that it is hard to make sure we are always having the right conversations all day long and is not always practical, yet if we are not conscious of the type of conversations we’re having, it is going to undermine trust and accountability in the workplace and this IS happening every day.

    People every day are making conscious decisions to avoid the hard conversations and have them instead with the wrong people who can’t do anything about it.

    Likewise, when we are in front of the right people often our self-esteem and self-worth gets in the way of asking for what we truly want and need and we defer to the other person because we don’t have the strength to step up and speak about the real subject we need to speak about.

    Best example is how performance is managed in most organizations. Performance discussions are dances of ambiguity and vagueness, and not nearly direct and candid enough.

    One client a couple of weeks ago wanted to have a conversation with her boss about moving a project forward that her boss didn’t believe was the right time and she kept procrastinating on telling my client. My client wanted to discuss the project’s merits and sell her on it.

    In deeper discussion with my client I learned that there has been a history of a lack of trust between the two of them due to past situations. I told my client she needed to have the “relationship” discussion first and rebuild trust first before even discussing moving anything forward as it would just meet with continued opposition.

    This is the point of the article and the model. We need to better evaluate the conversation that we should be having.

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