How to maintain your reputation and dignity during the hardest conversations

Does any of this conversation flow feel familiar?

Two team members talking about their recent team meeting:

Josef: “I can’t believe you said that in there!”

Marissa: “Why? I just said what everyone was thinking.”

Josef: “That’s just it. It wasn’t what I was thinking at all. You just assumed we all felt the same way as you. You didn’t check it out, and now (supervisor) Sara is likely thinking we are all against her.”

Marissa: “Last year you told me that the vacation policy was a big thorn in your side. That’s why I brought it up in the meeting.”

Josef: “That was a year ago! I was ticked off in the moment. It’s not how I feel now, and I sure didn’t appreciate you speaking for me or sharing my comments without my permission.”

Marissa: “You’re just too sensitive.”

Josef: “And now I can’t believe you just said that!”

It doesn’t take much for assumptions to get woven into conversations – often out of context – or for conflict to get messy and turn personal.

Just as with Josef and Marrisa, conflict in the workplace happens. Resolving disagreement and conflict at work can be tough at the best of times but there are some strategies that help – and some actions to avoid.

Speaking for others, making assumptions, and sharing information that was understood to be confidential, can create several challenges to navigate not only in the conversation, but also in the relationship. Bringing up the past, unresolved issues, blame, accusations, sarcasm, and “verbal jabs” are all examples of the behaviours that can turn a conversation into a confrontation.

It is in these moments when it doesn’t feel like you have a choice, that you actually have to exercise carefully decided choices around how you respond. This includes your verbal, emotional and nonverbal responses. These are those “moment of truth” times. A subtle sigh or eyeroll can increase the intensity of the conflict in seconds. A response, however, is more reflective, considered, and carefully worded statement that is not wrapped up with emotion.

Conflict resolution requires that we be:

  • Present
  • Focused
  • Willing to hear a perspective that different from our own
  • Interested in resolving the issue
  • Committed to communication skills that build bridges – not barricades

While we cannot control how other people respond or react in stressful times, what we can control is the choices we make around how we respond or react to the behavior or what is being said. After having facilitated the resolution of hundreds of highly charged and complex conflicts, when I was a mediator, I found that one of the most difficult choices is to resist the urge to “push back” and to being drawn into the other person’s reaction or drama.

The next time you are in a disagreement, a difficult conversation, or are actively resolving a conflict, practice what I call the three second rule. Simply take a breath and count to three in your head before verbally or non-verbally reacting. Three seconds may not seem like a lot; however it can make a world of difference in both the conversation and the relationship. This simple process could be the most powerful tool in maintaining your dignity, presence, and reputation.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Words may fade as time goes on; however, the impact of a conversation can stay with us for a long time.

So, make sure the impact you create in communication and relationships is the type of impact you want to leave.