Five Ways to Have Conflict-Ridden ConversationsOne of the most optimistic people I have ever come across is Laura Petrolino.

Just last night, I texted her to admit I’m a jerk.

Her immediate response?

Did you tip an old granny in a wheelchair?

Well, no.

Then you’re not a jerk!

It doesn’t matter if someone has just called her mom a name or called her baby (Oliver, her dog) ugly, she always has a great attitude.

When you work with someone every, single day…and oftentimes nearly 24/7, it starts to rub off.

Optimism vs. Cynicism

By nature, I’m not super optimistic.

I tend to err on the side of cynicism and sarcasm.

But having had Laura rub off on me for nearly three years and having worked really hard in the past 18 months to build an incredible team of people, I feel very, very lucky to do the work I do.

I’m fortunate to work with people who make me better.

Earlier this week, Mr. D. said to me:

It must be nice to have such a great team. I haven’t heard you complain about a single team member in I don’t know how long.

It’s because they all rock and they truly do make me a better person.

But even surrounded by smarter people than myself and having all those unicorns and rainbows rub off on me, now and then, things are just UGH!

One of the hardest things to do as a leader, a friend; heck, as a human being is to give people bad news or have conflict-ridden conversations.

This comes up in so many ways in business: Everything from reducing staff to eliminating bonuses or clients.

Even the conversations about raising prices or changing terms of business can cause anxiety.

I either want to rush through it to get it done or tend to postpone and hope it will magically go away.

When we knew we had to negotiate out of our $12,000 a month office lease, I avoided it as long as I could.

It was going to save the business $12,000 a month and yet…I couldn’t bring myself to just walk the three blocks to the landlord’s office and have a dumb conversation.

Five Ways to Have Conflict-Ridden Conversations

News flash!

When conflict-ridden conversations are staring you down, avoidance doesn’t work and tends to make things worse.

So I channel Laura’s rainbows and unicorns when I have to deal with not-so-good or outright bad news.

Here are some things that will help you have conflict-ridden conversations without so much angst:

  1. Simmer down. Dealing with bad news when feeling angry or discouraged isn’t helpful. It’s impossible to serve clients or a team until you deal with your own emotions.
  2. Be aware of timing. You might feel better pulling the team in at the last minute on Friday and dropping a bombshell but it’s probably not going to be much fun for them. Client issues are even more critical. Make sure you have time for everyone to feel heard and acknowledged.
  3. Never ever make it personal. Even if it feels that way to you. Heck it probably IS for you, but the more you can take the personal out, the better.
  4. Don’t hide behind email. My team will tell you I force them to get on video chat versus sending a Slack message when there is a hard conversation to be had. There is nothing worse than text conversations for conflict-ridden messages.
  5. Get to the point. A big build-up will only make the receiver of the news feel like you were trying to placate them or manipulate the situation. It’s possible to acknowledge that you wish things were different without making it about you.

Remember the movie “Up In The Air” where George Clooney is teaching Anna Kendrick’s character to show no emotion when firing people?

He recommends to just say the words and stop talking.

But, for those of you who have had to lay off or fire people know it’s dehumanizing and soulless.

It’s not easy to find the balance between saying what needs to be said, and doing it with empathy.

Learning how to balance the two will make your inner optimist relieved you’re showing up with grace even in the toughest moments.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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