COVID Times are different times. Difficult conversations become even more difficult because we’re experiencing very high levels of emotions.
From Work From home some us of have already moved to Work from Office or a combination of both.
A little bit about emotions
We label are emotions as positive and negative. Emotions are just emotions. Instead of labelling them as positive or negative emotions, let’s just call them emotions and deal with them in a manner which gives best outcomes.
Times are different. All of us are juggling between childcare , eldercare, household chores, our regular office work to name a few. Uncertainties are high. People who staying alone are experiencing loneliness. Humans are social animals. We are missing the personal touch, the water cooler conversation, the hallway greetings, the bumping into each other, the coffee in the canteen.
There is also something good that has happened. We are now confident that we can get into a new environment without warning. At work front, our colleagues have been humanised, with their children showing up on the screen just to say hello, the pets running around, the cooker whistle going off. At personal front, we get to spend more time with family.
Difficult conversations are ones which we’ve been putting off as even the thought of getting into them evokes strong emotions in us. They could also are ones where we anticipate they will evoke emotions in the other person. We are not sure about the consequences of the conversation. We are not sure which direction the conversation will head.
Setting up our personal boundaries becomes a difficult conversation. In a survey (during pre-COVID times) 75% of the people said that they work longer hours when working from home and 44 % had said they are not able to switch themselves off. The problem is about setting boundaries. Is this true for you too?
It’s not only about setting professional boundaries but also personal boundaries, in a manner that my family extends support during my work moments.
Approaching difficult conversation
A 4-step detail has been given below.
Step 1: Preparation
- Who do I want to be?
- What do I want from the conversation
- How do I want to be perceived as
- What are my apprehensions
- What are the consequences that I anticipate
As humans we have negativity bias. We catostrophise the outcomes, more than. Remaining positive is critical. Visualing a positive outcome is also important. Having a positive outlook, helps me approach the conversation in a collaborative manner rather than defensive approach.
Step 2: Setting the context and asking the time.
A conversation which has taken up a lot of your mental time and space, even before the actual conversation, is indeed an important conversation. Fixing a mutually agreeable time, is critical. In a Work-From-Office situation, it would have been easy to block a meeting room for the conversation and put aside all devices. In a Work-From-Home situation, a meeting room is not possible, but a video call is. Avoid using only voice call for such a conversation.
Step 3: Getting into the conversation
Start with stating the facts. e.g. “I have a challenge. 7:00 pm onwards is my family time. (you may want to elaborate on this based on the situation). Yesterday and day before you called me after 7:00 pm, which means, I’m not able to spend time with my family.”
Common pitfalls to avoid:
- Being generic about the behaviour. e.g. using words like “always”, “never”. Use specific instances , like “Last Thursday” or “during team meetings on this Monday and Wednesday”
- Using words that indicate you are judging. e.g. “You were angry”, “you don’t listen”, “you don’t care about me”. Talk about behaviours instead. Like “you raised your voice”, “you did not let me complete my sentence.”
Being generic or being judgemental could evoke a response which is defensive. It will ensure the conversation moves away from the topic in that is so important to you. These statement(s) could also start is a blame game … who did what and when.
If you have prepared well, you will avoid falling into a trap of moving away form the topic. Listen. Let the other person complete. Even if you don’t agree to what the other person is saying, listen till they complete their sentence. You may then say “I would like to know more on what you are saying and let’s meet at a later date of that. For now, can we come to an agreement about the 7 pm boundary.”
Deep breaths helps. Whenever you are high on emotion or they are high on emotion, you breathe. Belly breathing helps. In case the emotions are still high, you can always ask for time and come back later.
Step 4: Thank them
A sincere “Thank you” brings the conversation to an amicable end. If you are in agreement, rephrase the conversation along with the thank you. Even if the conversation did not move in the direction you had anticipated, thank the other person for their time and for listening. Do not forget to add that you would like to continue the conversation at a later time.
Managing boundaries with a colleague who is a friend
Another difficult conversation could be, your colleague has downloaded their work to you. The colleague claims to have a lot of personal commitments and hence is requesting to you to help/him. To certain extent you may able but after a while it becomes a burden to you. Instead of confronting about the volume of the work that has been downloaded, politely refuse to take on that specific task. Relationships are important and you may want a spoil the relationship, especially when times are touch. Refusing one task at a time is easier. Saying “You have been sharing a lot of work with me, and in the past I have been doing it. Today I’ have a lot of my work to do and I will not be able to help you out today.”
Managing boundaries at home
We cannot NOT communicate. We are communicating all the times. Not speaking is also communicating. Work timing boundaries may be set easily by setting a routine. If you want to start your office work at 9:00 am, do finish all your chores, take a shower, get ready and sit at the designated place. The act itself will communicate your about your work.
For special requests from them, communicate about your work and tell them, that you are willing to do if they tell you a day before. Again, think collaboration not confrontation.
Time to strengthen relationships
COVID times are different. All of us are going though a lot of emotions. Each one of us are going through a lot of stress.
Each one us have different ways to cope with situations. Assuming others would understand what is important for you is setting yourself up for failure. Articulate. Don’t assume. Even if your manager has small children at home, you should not assume they would understand your challenges with small children, irrespective of the gender.
It’s a good time to strengthen relationships. Getting into difficult conversations with respect and compassion can go a long way to building a positive emotional bank account.
Respect and Compassion during all conversations
Respect for self and respect for others & Compassion for self and compassion for others is the only way to get what we want. Think collaboration and not confrontation.
Difficult conversations are never over
Difficult conversation is not over yet. Do follow up after that even if you feel stressed after that. To know more read the HBR article on “You just had a difficult conversation at work, here’s what to do next”
Watch our FB Live session on “Having Difficult conversations during COVID Times “