Dialogue – the solution to all people challenges at work! Can’t seem to agree with your boss? Can’t get along with the new colleague? Need to give feedback? Rigid office timings don’t make sense to you? Considering moving into a new role? Talk to each other, put your perspectives on the table, your colleagues are often more reasonable than you give them credit for. Sounds familiar? Perhaps because I have said this far too many times in my column. It is hard to imagine workplaces issues that an adult conversation can’t resolve. The problem is that it doesn’t always work. In times of conversation, our guards are up, our insecurities come forth, and everything goes downhill from there. Could it be that solving people challenges needs the subtle nuances of a dialogue and not just saying our pieces and hoping to find a solution that works? I’d say yes. Dialogue has its techniques; there are right and wrong ways to do it.
Here is a primer for the next time you need to have a dialogue so you don’t just end up talking to no effect.
The dictionary meaning is taking part in a discussion to resolve a problem. But it is very different from the usual workplace conversations. It requires two parties to uncover their vulnerabilities and speak authentically. But more importantly, dialogue is also the art of listening actively.
Prepare right – Just like you would prepare yourself for meetings and appraisal discussions, it is important to prepare your talking points for dialogues too. What are the things you need to say? What are the possible arguments the other party might present? How do you plan to respond?
Meet in person – It is easy to assume that an email is a great way to communicate at work. It gives you time to think, frame your sentences correctly, and respond objectively. But keyboard wars are a real thing, sometimes inadvertently too. In times of conflict, emails leave much to interpretation. Candid feedback can look curt. Transparency can be incorrectly perceived as confrontation. Whereas, speaking in person gives both parties a chance to better understand each other’s perspective through tonality and body language, and also opens an opportunity for dialog instead of insular, one-way reprimand. If a face-to-face conversation is not possible, a video or phone call is the next best tool.
Start right – If you are entering a dialogue to find a solution to an existing issue, don’t rattle off what you think is the best solution. That will immediately put the other party on the defensive because they’d assume that you don’t want to listen. Start right by laying the issue out in the open and being receptive to all opinions.
Stay objective – It is crucial that you keep your emotions out of the equation during a dialogue if you want to be taken seriously. We’re all human; of course we react to situations and issues in the ways we know best. But there is no point telling the other party that. Instead, focus on the work-related repercussions of the other party’s decision or behaviour. Want someone to change the way they call out your errors in public. Instead of saying you “feel bad about it”, consider saying that their behaviour demotivates you and affects your performance. Conducive work environment is everyone’s responsibility and it would take an extremely unreasonable person to disregard this statement – most people at work are far from it.
Be prepare for criticism but know when to draw the line – If you are entering a dialogue with someone you disagree with, don’t expect the conversation to be a bed of roses. If you present constructive criticism, the other party is allowed to do so too. But don’t encourage bad behaviour. Stay calm and authoritative and draw the line at unprofessionalism.
Go with the intention to find the best solution – Often, we walk into meetings and conversations with agendas. The only solution that works for us is the one that we agree with. That is a flawed expectation. Dialogues need to be about finding the middle ground between two disagreeing parties. It is not about winning or losing. Most disagreements at work have little to do with rights and wrongs. They occur simply because of different value systems and beliefs, perspectives and conditioning. Finding the middle ground is the only way to peacefully coexist and stay focused on common goals.
Remember, tough conversations at work are an everyday occurrence. They are not as complicated and high-stake as we often makes them out to be. Of course skilful dialogue comes with experience and practice. You wouldn’t know how much they help till you try!