When the Discussion is Not Optional!

How about this case? The discussion is about workplace drunkenness, drugs or sexual harassment. You are in charge, and you must talk to the suspected person. Now, clearly this is not a place for “constructive criticism” or permission. In fact, it’s a discussion about “crossing the line”. Should you ask for permission for a dialog? Clearly not, that would be foolish and disingenuous. Acting “as if” in this type of case, in order to give the other person the illusion of choice is insincere, and therefore abuses the basic principle of healthy dialogue.

So, how do you do things considerately when the conversation is not optional?

Here are a couple of ideas: One can show consideration by demonstrating flexibility in, when or wherever you hold a tough conversation. Let’s say, for example, you are deeply concerned about your child arriving home drunk and disorderly after a party. This is not an optional conversation in any decent home, but to show consideration and caring in approaching the child. One could say, “Hiya, I’m a bit concerned and I’d like to discuss my concerns with you. Is now OK or shall I plan something for after dinner?” Granting a little control over the conversation would signal you are considerate and respect his or her needs. This will not suddenly result in their need to be overly defensive – this way they will be far more likely to really listen to your issues.

There are many ways to offer a degree of safety. Some people will explain the need to confront before launching the confrontation. Others express a verbal apology before involving a person in a highly awkward situation.

For example, in confronting an employee returning to work drunk and disorderly you might say, “I need to speak with you right now. I’m sorry to have to do this, but I am responsible for safety in this office and I believe you are drunk and behaving badly.” OK, OK in this case no amount of sweetly scripted talk, and no matter how graceful you are in compelling someone to co-operate, he or she is not going to be overjoyed by your presence, let alone appreciate what you are saying.

Remember, the goal in being considerate and respectful is to create a zone of emotional safety, not to suddenly become friends or make the conversation “fun”. Emotional safety is important to everyone (especially you) and the goal is to prevent defensiveness and overreaction as much as is humanly possible. Even tiny adjustments to how you start a required zero option discussion can reduce the chances of volatile defensive reactions and surprisingly could even improve the conversation.

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