(KUNM Airdate: 11/24/06)

Even if you only work the American average of 40 hours a week, that still means that almost 40% of your waking hours are spent at work. And we all know that workplaces can become workshops in conflict resolution. It's not always easy to get along with your boss, your fellow employees, your customers. Conflicts of all kinds can surface and frankly, a lot of us do our best to steer around them for as long as possible rather than face them head on. Suzanne Kryder, the original host of this program, Peace Talks, has been a leadership coach and trainer for many years and lately she's been focusing her attention on helping people stop putting off those dreaded conversations at work, make peace, and be more productive and happy in the workplace. She talked over the problem and potential solutions recently with Peace Talks host Carol Boss and some callers facing communication challenges at work.

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(transcription courtesy Rogi Riverstone)

CAROL BOSS: How do you define a dreaded conversation?

SUZANNE KRYDER: A dreaded conversation is any conversation we dread. There are, basically, three categories. What I call, "managing up:" those are difficult conversations with our boss. "Managing sideways:" which is conversations we dread having with our coworkers and colleagues. "Managing down:" if we supervise anyone, which is having conversations with our employees or direct reports about their behavior.

BOSS: Give us a couple of illustrations of some common conversations that people dread having with each other.

KRYDER: The biggest ones are conversations that managers and supervisors need to have with their employees. They're usually about people's performance on the job. So often, there's really a dread, or an anxiety, about giving people feedback about their performance. Most people don't want to hurt somebody else's feelings. I notice a range from anxiety to anger. That's the continuum we're talking about. People who have a lot of anxiety about giving feedback could be put in a category called, "wimps." On the other end of the continuum are people who, when they get poor performance as an issue, they get angry. Sometimes, their behavior is more like a "bully." Usually, the people who are more "bully" types, who get angry about poor performance, they don't tend to get anxiety; they just get angry and yell. That is actually unpleasant for both the sender and the receiver - but mostly for the receiver. In terms of anxiety, supervisors hate to give feedback.

BOSS: What makes it so hard? What makes it such a dreaded thing to do?

KRYDER: People, who tend to be more wimpy, and have more anxiety, feel the anxiety for two reasons. First, they don't want to hurt the other person's feelings. Second, they don't want to be seen as the bad guy. They're trying to protect themselves, but they're also trying to protect the other person.

BOSS: But, as a result, they're pretty ineffectual.

KRYDER: Exactly. It's a kind of immobilization. That comes from the dread, or the fear. The dread comes in four categories. It usually starts with mental dread, having these negative thoughts, "I really shouldn't talk to them. They're really not that bad. They won't like me." That's what the supervisors are saying. The employees are saying, "I'm doing an awful job. I'm going to lose my job. Nobody here likes me. I'm incompetent." That's the mental dread. The second piece is the physical dread, where we feel it in our bodies: the anxiety in the pit of our stomachs, the tension in our shoulders, the headaches. Combining these two - the unpleasant thoughts and the body sensations - create these emotions: anxiety, anger, dread. The fourth kind of dread is what I call, "behavioral dread." There's all this discomfort going on, inside of us, and then we tend to act outwardly in inappropriate ways. People cry. Or, they yell and scream. I've heard stories about people throwing things, storming out of rooms, things like that.

Suzanne Kryder
Leadership Coach and Workplace Trainer

Interviewer Carol Boss

BOSS: Not having conversation that, in itself, is going to create conflict. Feelings are going to come out in different ways. There are going to be certain behaviors as a result of one deciding they can't have a certain conversation. They don't want to have that conversation. They dread having that conversation.

KRYDER: That's a really good point. I like to talk about a four-stage model: goals, roles, procedure and interpersonal. The reasons we have conflicts at work are because of our work. We have conflicts about goals: you think we're supposed to do one thing; I interpret it another way. We have conflicts about roles: who does what? Sometimes, we get confused about who's supposed to do what. "I thought you were going to do that. I thought I was going to do that." The third conflict is procedures. We get mixed up about how work is supposed to be done: the flow of work, the timing of work. Those three pieces are all we really differ about, or disagree about, at work. What you're talking about is when people don't surface disagreements about goals, roles and procedures. Then, it ferments. We turn it into an interpersonal conflict. We start distrusting each other, talking about each other behind each other's backs, doing what I call, "triangulation." You don't go to the person and address the issue with them. You bring in a third party.

BOSS: That's pretty common, I would imagine.

KRYDER: It's incredibly common. And it's incredibly ineffective.

BOSS: I would imagine that, not only is it ineffective; it poisons the whole environment.

KRYDER: Right. Because then, people learn they're not supposed to be direct. It wastes a lot of time. In fact, there's a research study that says the average employee spends two hours a week, relating to interpersonal conflict in their jobs.

BOSS: Meaning what, when you say, "relating?"

KRYDER: It could be either dealing with it, worrying about it, thinking about it. We're wasting about two hours a week.

BOSS: That's amazing.

KRYDER: It's a lot. If you think about the number of people in your work place, two hours per week, if you've got twenty employees, that adds up to a full time person.

I talk to many people about conflict in the work place. I ask them to talk about their feelings. Most people respond, "We shouldn't do feelings in the work place." We're having feelings all the time. Feelings are in response to thoughts and experiences. We're having thoughts and experiences throughout our workday. So, we're having feelings: mad, sad, glad or afraid. I would encourage folks to notice when they're having an unpleasant feeling and to identify what that source is. Is it related to another person, project, process? Go have a conversation, as soon as possible. Because the longer we delay our conversation, the more the dread increases and, usually, our anger and anxiety.

BOSS: We can't deny our feelings. We also can't deny our needs: the needs to be heard. Many times, that's not encouraged in the work place, at all. I guess it takes some courage to get that going, especially if you're an employee.

KRYDER: It really does. Because most work cultures don't encourage a lot of openness and honesty. We see, in situations like - and it's a tragic one - the Challenger disaster. There were technicians who knew that the "O" ring was unstable. They wrote emails. They tried to communicate up their concern about the "O" ring. What happened was that people at the top said, "We can't stop this project. There's a school teacher on board." What happened was that seven people lost their lives because there wasn't openness. There wasn't an environment where people could speak up and tell the truth. That's a very extreme example. But it's happening in every work place around the planet today. People don't feel that they can speak up. It takes so much energy to report out on mistakes, errors or just disagreements about what we're doing, who is doing it and how it's supposed to get done.


Suzanne Took Some Calls From Listeners With Challenges at Work
And Offered These Thoughts To A Woman Who Called Her Boss "A Bully."

KRYDER: What I encourage folks to do is to take the high road, to say, "How can I be the adult in this situation? This situation really needs an adult. My boss isn't being the adult, so what can I do to role model healthy communication behavior?" I would encourage you to be the person you want her to be. You want her to be appreciative; you can start appreciating her.

CALLER: That's a good idea.

KRYDER: It's a challenge. But she's got to be doing something right. Do you want her to be soft? How can you be soft?


KRYDER: When you say, "She assumes she's right," I want to encourage you to point out to her when she isn't right. I know there are people out there, saying, "This is so Pollyanna-ish." But we're not going to change people's behavior until we start changing our own.

CALLER: That's a good point. Would you address the issue of the difference between bullying and management of people?

KRYDER: That's a big one. I do think there are a lot of bullies in the work place. I think there are some bullies who don't know what they're doing. Part of our job is to point out when we're uncomfortable. If she comes in and interrupts people, point that out. "Excuse me. I don't know if you've noticed this or not, but I wasn't finished speaking." Or, "Excuse me. Could I finish?" Just do a little, soft thing like that. The problem with bullies - here's the deal with bullies. Nobody's ever told people, who are bullies, what they're doing wrong. That's your job. I welcome you to start doing that with her.

Hear More of Suzanne's Work With Callers on Her Website.



WEBSITE: Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg)

WEBSITE: The Work by Byron Katie

WEBSITE: Daniel Golemanís website

BOOK: Difficult Conversations by Doug Stone, Bruce Patten, & Sheila Heen

BOOK: Working With Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

BOOK: Emotional Intelligence at Work by Hendrie Weisinger

BOOK: Executive Coaching With Backbone and Heart by Mary Beth OíNeill

BOOKS on Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

BOOK: On Dialogue by David Bohm

BOOK: Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman