Critical Conversations For Dummies
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Workplace dynamics can make a good team perform at an extraordinary level or fall to pieces. Many workplace dynamic critical conversations come about because of subjective issues such as personality differences. So before you have a critical conversation with individuals or a group, diagnose what is causing the problem by looking at the group dynamics.

Look for actions that are causing the problem or resulting in undesirable consequences, not just impressions or symptoms of the problem. You may find employees do not support one another in achieving the team’s goals, but then dig a bit deeper to find how one even knows what the goal is.

As you look at events and actions in the workplace that are driving undesirable consequences and results, you may begin to see that dysfunctional workplaces can come from almost anywhere. If you are having trouble pinpointing what is causing a team to not work effectively, here are a few places to look:

  • Actions of individuals. The saying goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and in workplace dynamics this is often the case. Any action by an individual that disrupts a group’s ability to work successfully together warrants a critical conversation.

    Whether an individual is consistently late to meetings or goes against the team’s decisions or is aggressive in his communication, the individual may be destroying the environment.

  • Interactions between individuals. In most organizations, individuals communicate and interact. These interactions may be anything from sending e-mails to attending team meetings to small talk over coffee.

    A few interactions that may lead to a critical conversation include individuals cutting each other off during discussions or ignoring comments during a meeting. Ideally, individuals would be able to work out differences of opinions or work styles, but if the dysfunctional relationship has a negative impact on the team, it may be time for a critical conversation facilitated by a neutral party or leader.

    Try to avoid making this critical conversation look like a visit to the principal’s office when kids are arguing on the playground. Your first step should always be to recommend that the people not working well together have a critical conversation with just the two of them first.

    Or, individually coach them on two areas: first, how to have a conversation, and, second, show how their actions or behaviors are impacting the business and your request for them to change. Then offer your support and try to let the employees work it out with one another.

  • Patterns of behavior within the group. Critical conversation can come out of specific tasks or incidents, but often they’re the result of patterns in behaviors within a group. Team members may be purposefully avoiding one another or not wanting to work together on project teams. Or you may have a situation in which stress levels are high, and the usual respectful behavior turns into an emotional battlefield.

When you’re observing action, interaction, or patterns, you’re likely to be somewhat biased. You are, after all, only human. Everyone has emotions and biases about how things should be done.

To limit your own bias, follow these steps: reflect, engage, and commit. First, reflect on what you may be biased against (or for). It may be helpful to use work, communication, and leadership style assessments (including DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Strengths Deployment Inventory, and Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Assessment) to get a different perspective on what generalizations or bias you may have.

Second, bias is usually caused by past experiences, so take the extra step to engage with groups or individuals you may have a bias or prejudice against. You may find your biases to be unfounded.

Third, make a commitment to be more aware of your biases and try to stop them before they get in the way of a potentially great work relationship.

About This Article

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Christina Tangora Schlachter, PhD, is a Certified Professional Coach. She has created and taught courses on communication skills, crucial conversations for new managers, communication for professionals, and dealing with difficult conversations. She is the coauthor of Leading Business Change For Dummies and is the Chief Leader of She Leads.

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