I got into work that morning and received the single most dreaded voicemail message that you can get from your boss… “Can you come see me in my office as soon as you get here?”
I could tell from his tone that something was up.
And it wasn’t good.
My mind started racing…
What could it be?
Did something blow up on one of my cases?
Was there a big new crisis in the organization that we needed to help out with?
Was it that presentation I kiiiiiiiiind of didn’t edit properly?
Or maybe I was reading too much into things and he simply wanted to chat about something innocuous like planning the Christmas party.
The suspense was killing me.
After briefly contemplating faking my own death… I headed over to his office with a notepad (and a subtle sense of dread).
I saw the presentation that I was asked to edit several weeks beforehand sitting on top of his desk.
Oh crap… I thought to myself.
He motioned to me to sit down next to him… and then he proceeded to ask, “Do you think this is good?”
I’m not the best at thinking on my feet, but I knew that if I said yes, I was an idiot for suggesting that my half-assed editing job was any good…
And I knew that if I said no, it meant that I didn’t do what my boss had asked me to do.
So in my state of panic and fluster, I picked the proverbial “door number 3” and waffled my way through the conversation… muttering something vague about everyone having different perspectives and writing styles. (Those 3 years of law school did not go to waste.)
This story always makes me laugh when I tell it now :) (I’m literally smiling from ear to ear as I type this!)
But back then, I was mortified.
I knew that I had let an important task slide, and that wasn’t in my nature.
What was worse, I felt SO embarrassed every time I saw my boss after that incident.
I’d wave hello to him and literally cringe in shame on the inside.
I knew that I needed to sit down and have a long and hard chat with myself.
So what happened there? (I asked myself.)
When I started to slowly (and somewhat painfully) unpack the reasons why I didn’t edit that presentation properly, it became much more clear to me.
I believed that I was getting all of the editing work in the office (my assumption)… and I didn’t feel that this was fair. I knew that I had a natural ability in this area, but this wasn’t the job that I was hired to do.
And instead of dealing proactively with the issue, I decided to only kind of edit that last piece of work that was sent to me.
Priceless, I know.
Okay… so clearly, I could have handled that part better.
So then I wondered to myself, what prevented me from sharing all of this during that fateful meeting with my boss?
He was great! I knew he’d understand and that we’d find a solution if we talked about it… so why didn’t I do this at the time?
This is when I realized that I felt totally cornered by the way that he started the conversation – “Do you think this is good?”
It was a yes/no question, with no decent response.
So being the lifelong learner and difficult conversation junkie that I was (and still am)… I decided to rip off the band aid and talk to my boss about all of this.
I’m not going to lie… I was pretty nervous.
I had no trouble talking about what I had done wrong… that was the easy part. But I knew that I also needed to give him some feedback about how he had started that conversation.
Armed with my difficult conversations prep sheet and a quick swig of Earl Grey tea that almost burned off the roof of my mouth, I dove in and hoped for the best.
We had an amazing chat.
I started by asking him if he was open to doing a little debrief with me about how our discussion on the presentation had gone.
He paused momentarily and I could see the wheels turning in his brain… he knew that I had something important to say. And his response was that if it was important to me it was important to him.
I first apologized for my contribution to what happened. I explained that I had gone against one of my core values (i.e., essentially producing good work). I told him that I had done a lot of reflection about how I had allowed that to happen, my assumptions about the editing work, and my need for fairness.
I also told him that I wished I had said all of this to him earlier… or at least during our previous discussion. And then I took a deep breath and shared how his invitation to the conversation impacted me.
He wholeheartedly agreed that he could have handled that up front piece better and he apologized for that.
He explained how valued my editing skills were and we ultimately found a way to leverage them that worked for me and the team.
We both left that conversation feeling heard, understood, and more trusting of each other.
There are so many core skills to learn when it comes to dealing with difficult situations effectively. Here are just a handful of them:
- Preparing for the conversation
- Acknowledging that there are multiple perspectives
- Managing your mindset and your internal dialogue
- Helping the other person feel at ease
- Giving the person a heads up about the discussion (i.e., the invitation)
- Being direct
- Acknowledging your role in the situation
- Setting healthy boundaries and enforcing them
- Being concise
- Ending the discussion with clear action steps
Although certain types of discussions might make us feel uncomfortable (i.e., negotiating a raise, handling a person who triggers us, dealing with a lack of accountability, etc.), the good news is that all of these skills can be learned.
And the great news is that once you learn them, they’ll help you with:
Your career progression – learning how to communicate persuasively and set healthy boundaries is a core leadership skill that is necessary whether you’re in a formal leadership role or not.
Your stress-levels – you no longer internalize things and allow them to fester when you know how to resolve difficult issues effectively.
And ultimately your overall sense of satisfaction in life – you experience more inner peace and freedom when you finally start honouring YOUR truth without forcing it on other people.
Looking for more?
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