Pursue What Matters
Episode 93: Communicating Concerns at Work
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you ever have communication concerns at work? Or are you a pro at difficult conversations? Maybe you’re like many of us, conflict avoidant until the point of boiling anger, that maybe you explode in aggressive rage. Okay, well, hopefully not rage. But today we’re gonna try and find a middle ground between those two extremes.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:27
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So you probably never have communication concerns at work, right? Because everyone that you work with is perfect. And of course, you’re perfect, and your communication is perfect, and their communication is perfect. And wait, scratch, the record has hit a snag, and everyone has fled the building. So communication concerns at work. These can be the bane of your existence. As long as you are dealing with humans, which is you know, pretty much all of us, you have to find a way to communicate and deal with concerns. And ideally, you want to communicate concerns directly and productively. So of course, as a psychologist and leadership, coach, I have had a front row seat, whether I’ve wanted one or not. Two, the communication concerns and relationship issues have, you know, at this point 1000s of people, and let me just say we have got some explaining to do when it comes to communication. And sadly, the truth is, we’re kind of lousy at it. Certainly not everyone, but communication is so challenging. It is one of the most basic things, right, like we all communicate all the time. And yet, it continues to be incredibly challenging for so many of us. And of course, relationships, including at work can be so, so messy. And as a result, the communication around these relationships can be really messy. And so today, I really want to focus on communicating about concern.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:38
So I have done another podcast about communication. But today, we are talking specifically about communication, about concerns. And the truth is, wow, we can always be talking about communication, because there’s just so much there. It’s rich. It’s rich soil for us to be working in. So a few things that we want to focus on today is first of all, what do you need to pay attention to? What are some of the common mistakes? And this is the real work: How do you gird up your loins and manage your anxiety around these challenging conversations? Because you know, if you’re like many of us, you may be very conflict avoidant, right, like I said, at the top of the podcast, and that is no good. When it comes to relationships, we have got to get to the work, we have got to be able to address challenges, address concerns. And that means we’ve got to be willing to tolerate some conflict. And so we’re going to talk about that. And here’s the good news as you build some confidence. And what I would say is when you hear me say confidence, I want you to, to hear experience, when you build some confidence and some experience with communicating concerns, both you and those you work with, start to build some distress tolerance around these conversations, and you’ll all be stronger for it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:16
So right I’ve had a front row seat to the communication concerns of thousands of people. But the other thing that has happened for me as a result of my work as a psychologist and a leadership coach is I am a truth speaker. And some folks say I can really be brutally honest, but hopefully they also know that I care and most do know that. But I have had to have incredibly difficult conversations with individuals over the years. That is often the work that I do because you’ve got to give difficult feedback, you’ve got to, you’ve got to tell the truth to people. And so what I have learned both by, you know, helping individuals with their communication, but also by communicating about concerns is that as you do it more often as you communicate concerns, as you address challenges head on, you get better at it, you build the very necessary distress tolerance skills around these conversations. And it doesn’t mean you go looking for a fight, I certainly don’t, I do not enjoy fighting just to fight. And that’s not what direct communication is all about. That’s not what communicating about concerns is all about. It’s not about fighting. But I will never shy away from saying what needs to be said. And when you can have good intent for the other person, it is an act of respect, to be able to share necessary feedback. And what I know is true, because I experienced it for myself, is that you get better at these conversations. And there is skill involved in it. And some would even say there’s art. And you know, I think that that also can be true. But let’s help you become more skilled at it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:27
So of course, every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters, and to really help you develop the skills and the confidence to lead. So I do that in one of three primary areas. Right, leading with clarity, leading with curiosity and leading a community. And so today, primarily, as we’re talking about communicating concerns, we’re really focusing on leading with clarity and leading a community, because you need to know why it matters, to discuss these concerns. It’s not like every battle is not worth fighting. Right? Every parent knows that. And so you have to have clarity about what matters, and why and how to go about addressing concerns. And then of course, the other way I really want to help you to build and strengthen your confidence is through leading a community because communication happens with people with teams with your relationships that matter so much. And so of course, our communication skills help us to become better leaders, help us to have stronger communities and stronger teams. So that’s what we’re going to focus on today.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:46
Okay, so what do I mean, when I say communicating concerns at work, right, and why it’s so important. So in order to drive results, reach goals and progress. As an organization, your team members really have to be able to have challenging conversations at work, and they need to learn to hold space for one another. Now, that is a term from the psychological literature. And, and I would say even more specifically, that is from clinicians. So clinicians talk about holding space for their clients, for their patients, for the folks that they work with. What do I mean by learning to hold space for one another, it’s a powerful concept. And so when we think about how to communicate concerns at work, the first solution is to hold space. So of course, this is a term very familiar in clinical settings. And what it really means is to hold emotional space for the experience of another person. So let’s, let’s get more specific about that. It’s where you can acknowledge the emotional experience of another individual, even if you do not understand it, or agree with it. And think about that when there is a conflict or a disagreement or a concern at work, you really do need to be able to acknowledge the experience of the other person. That doesn’t mean you understand it. It doesn’t mean you agree with it, but acknowledgement really matters. So the reality is that holding space is incredibly difficult for most of us to do.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:37
So many of us are taught to argue our point to convince the other that we are correct and to win the argument. So many of us are taught that when we are having a conversation or when there is a disagreement, we are fighting to win that we are going to battle and this dynamic is absolutely in opposition of holding space, because holding space, it has absolutely nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong. Like that isn’t even part of the equation. And so depending on your team dynamics, you know, this tendency to argue and fighting to win can be such a very powerful drive. Because, right, I mean, it can mean the difference between getting the green light on your projects, your funding, and even your job. So like, this is not a small issue, if these behaviors are rewarded.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:36
So those of you who are listening who have power at work, who are leaders who are making funding decisions, you really need to listen up. Because if you are settling these kinds of decisions by you know, who has the best argument, and you’re setting up a dynamic where there is, you know, fighting to the death, you ought to be very careful, because it’s not the most effective way to address concerns at work. And so honestly, it might just be the biggest bully is the one that wins, or the one that gets their funding. And then honestly, depending on the situation, the whole organization loses. So this type of behavior has a really corrosive effect on teams and organizations over time, because it feeds shame. And it leads to defensiveness. And what happens is it shuts down creativity and engagement. Because for most of us, not everyone, but many of us are very conflict avoidant. And so if the dynamic is one of I’ve got a fight to win, and you’ve got folks in there that are conflict avoidant, what happens, they’re going to give up, they’re going to stop fighting. And that’s they’re just going to shut down.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:00
So any kind of engagement or productive, creativity is just gone. And so then the loudest person or the biggest bully, is the one that wins. And it’s just incredibly corrosive to Team culture. Okay, so I addressed some of these elements in my podcast on psychological safety. So I will link to that episode. And you can review the details of that if you would like these are certainly related terms. So we do want to pay attention to that. So when we think about holding space for another, it really communicates that the other individual matters. It doesn’t mean you agree, necessarily. It doesn’t even mean that you understand. But it means that you see the individual and that you respect them, that the individual matters, their perspective matters, their emotional experience matters. And when they share something that is vulnerable, or that, you know, maybe they’re worried about what the rest of the team is going to think whether it’s about a project, whether it’s their opinion, about a project, that when you hold space for them, you’re acknowledging that they’re, they’re risking vulnerability, their willingness to speak up, matters, and that you see them and you acknowledge this. And that you’re acknowledging that it takes courage to share some things, right, it doesn’t take courage to share all things for sure. But it takes courage to share some things to share the vulnerable things. So to hold space means I see you and you matter, I hear you, and you matter, I acknowledge you and you matter, I can see this is courageous for you, and you matter. And again, it’s really important to be able to take the perspective of another person, because what may be courageous for one team member might not necessarily be courageous for another team member. Have you ever had the experience of you know, being somewhere and seeing someone do something maybe for the first time, or you can see that they’re doing something and you can see how scared they are, can maybe see them shaking, and you just, you want to fight for them and you want to cheer them on. And the thing that they’re doing may not be something that’s scary for you, maybe it’s something you’ve done 100 times, but you can connect with them in that moment, and you just want to cheer them on and you can feel the courage that it takes for them to do what they’re doing in that matter. That in that instance, that is holding space and it is a beautiful thing. It’s really connecting to the emotional experience underlying the situation. So holding space with holds judgment of the individual, it’s not your job to judge. So there may well be critique, and even judgment of ideas that are brought forth in the discussion. But here is the thing, there’s a clear separation between critique of ideas and critique of individuals. So we need to have a very clear boundary, a very clear separation of those two things. So we always want to have a critique of ideas. But that doesn’t mean an attack of individuals.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:32
Okay. So the former, the critique of ideas is essential to growth and success, the latter critique of individuals can have an undermining effect on psychological safety at work. So some examples of judgment have an idea, okay, which is good. I don’t agree with that this idea is the correct direction for our team to go. And this is why. So examples of judgment of an individual, which is what we want to stay away from, you are stupid for bringing this idea to the team. What were you thinking? Okay, so you see the difference there. So we always want to separate the person from the idea.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:14
Okay. So a couple more thoughts on holding space holding space accepts individuals as they are, which ironically, sets the necessary foundation for change, if that could be helpful. So you are okay, just as you are is really the message of holding space, it communicates safety and acceptance, which then becomes a safe base, or a launchpad to then explore how one might change. And think about your teams right we are, we really are heavily influenced by the people we spend most of our time with. And so when you think about your work teams, they will change you, and hopefully for the better, but it won’t be because they come in and tell you the ways that you need to change, right? If change happens, because first we are accepted, change happens because we are accepted as we are. And then maybe we are inspired by the examples of those around us. And so it also brings a secondary point, which is Be very careful who you spend your time with. Because the research is very clear that we really are the net result in many cases of those we spend the majority of our time with.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:42
Okay, so Carl Rogers, who was a master clinician, he is really one of the founding fathers of clinical psychology and clinical work, stated, “the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” And isn’t that beautiful. I mean, that really is how it works, we must first know that we’re accepted. And that becomes the launchpad for change, and growth. So we also want to learn to hold both. So instead of bots, we want to learn to hold. And so this idea that two things can be true at once, you can disagree with someone, and they can have a valid perspective, they can have a valid point of view, and you can still disagree with them. And I think that that can be really valuable. When you are addressing concerns on a team when you’re addressing concerns at work. It’s like I totally do not see eye to eye with you. But you have a very valid point. Right? Like I really appreciate your perspective. And I still don’t think we should go with that plan. That that can be a really non, I would say non aggressive way of addressing concerns and disagreeing respectfully.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:10
Okay, so our first solution is to hold space and acknowledge the emotional experience of the other. And the second solution is that we want to start with good intent. Always, always, always start and finish with good intent. So you might have to remind yourself of this a lot, especially when it comes to addressing concerns. So we want to assume the best intent of others. And this is an there’s an interesting phenomenon, right so that we have the attribution error and the observer bias error. These both come from social psychology and so, the attribution error is that you know, this is this is also known as the question respondents bias, error or effect, and it is the tendency for people to under emphasize situational explanations for an individual’s behavior, while over emphasizing dispositional and personality based explanations for their behavior, okay, so let me let me deconstruct that. Let me explain that in layman’s terms, okay.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:29
So when we look at the behavior of other people, we assume their behavior is due to their attributes, so like their personality attributes, so, so we have the tendency to say the reason he didn’t get his report in is because he’s lazy. So, we attribute that behavior in other people to personality attributes, so flawed personality characteristics, and that is known as the attribution error. And so it’s an example of not assuming the best intent of others. And so it’s a way that we make assumptions that are not helpful, especially when we’re working on teams. Now, on the other hand, they, we have observer bias error. And this also comes from social psychology. And it’s kind of the flip side of the attribution error. And this is when we are looking at our own actions, we tend to attribute that our own actions to external causes. So I think it’s so funny. So if we don’t get our report turned in on time, it’s because there was a big storm. And, you know, we that the power was out. And so you know, we couldn’t access our computer, and the baby was up all night crying. And that’s why we didn’t get our report turned in on time. It’s not because we blew it off. It’s not because we were lazy. It’s not because we don’t take work seriously. So the observer bias error is that when we are looking at our own behaviors, we will attribute you know, those things that maybe aren’t seen in the best light, we will attribute those to situational factors, situational attributions, rather than personality attributions. But when we’re looking at the behavior of other people, we will dismiss them and label them as personality flaws very quickly. And so what we want to do with solution two is we want to resist both of those errors, because those errors really get in the way of us seeing the other person accurately. And we don’t want to do that, because it sets us up to be angry, resentful, or at the very least, very uncharitable. And so we always want to assume the best intent of others. So if you don’t, you know, if the report isn’t turned in on time, just get curious and ask, you know, help me understand. I my understanding was the report was due this morning at nine, can you help me understand where it is? And so assume good intent, and seek understanding.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:27
Okay and then let’s move to solution three, which is to know your signs. And by that, I mean, know, your stress signs. So when concerns come up, as they inevitably will, right, like totally will, because this is life, and we will always face challenges you want, we want you to be aware of your stress signs. Because we all have different ways that stress shows up for us, and how that plays out on a team. So for some people, they get super quiet, and they just shut down. Other people tend to get kind of aggressive. Other people maybe get a little pissy. I don’t like that word. But that’s that kind of conveys it, I think. And so what does that look like? What are your stress signs? Do you get more avoidant? When you’re feeling stress? Do you get more confrontational? When you get stressed? Do you get more dismissive when you get stressed? So the key with solution three is to know your stress signs, so you can have more self awareness? And so you can be more protective, because you might need to be a little more proactive, so that those stress signs don’t get you in trouble in your teams and in your meetings. Because, you know, you don’t you don’t want those signs to be misread. And, you know, I’ve seen how that can kind of create a little bit of a domino effect sometimes for teams and of course That’s not helpful or productive. And then solution for is to check your stories. So of course, when concerns come up, we really want to check out the stories that we might be telling ourselves. And this is, you know, we have situations happen. And then we have the storytelling in our mind about the situations. So what are some of your favorite stories that show up? When challenges come up?
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:29
So some might be things will, things always go wrong, we never pull together, he always lets us down, I can’t count on her. What might your stories be, you might have stories about yourself, you might have stories about your team, you might have stories about your organization, you might have stories about specific team members, most of us do, okay. And so you’ve got to be willing to check and challenge your stories. So you know, sometimes the stories that you tell yourself can be comforting, even if they’re miserable, scary stories, because the stories bring a sense of control in uncertain situations, right, when we’re facing challenging situations are storytelling brings a sense of control is like, yep, the reason we didn’t get this deal is because we can never organize ourselves on time. That story is miserable. It doesn’t feel good. But it does bring a sense of control, to really what is probably a very sad or disappointing situation. But here is the thing about storytelling. These stories are disastrous for your teams, they will destroy your culture, they will destroy trust, and they will undermine effectiveness. And over time, they will sow the seeds of resentment. And here’s the other thing. I think this is a really important point, most of your stories are likely not even true. So you’re making assumptions based on your stories. And they’re probably not even true. And so they’re not helpful for you. So you’ve really got to be able to check in with the stories, no storytelling, whether they help you feel better, or whether they give you a sense of control in this situation, you’ve got to stay present, you’ve got to stay in the reality, you’ve got to dig into the details of why didn’t we get that deal? Why were we late on that project. And if you’re in your head with the storytelling, blaming, and shaming, you’re not going to get to a solution, you’re actually not going to, you’re not going to get to the problem solving that needs to happen in order to progress.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:51
Okay, so the storytelling does not serve you, it does not serve your team. And so we want you to get out of your head and into reality. So what are the facts on the ground, we want you to be a curious observer, so that you can problem solve, you need to take action and get off the emotional rollercoaster. Because the storytelling keeps us on an emotional roller coaster. It keeps you stuck in a loop de loop on that roller coaster all day long. You just keep going for another ride on that coaster. And it conveniently keeps you out of responsibility for problem solving, keeps you out of having the difficult conversations and taking accountability and responsibility and holding one another, responsible and accountable.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:46
Okay, and then the last solution is to know the difference between a concern a complaint and a criticism, okay, these three things are not created equally. And they’re they’re very different and it’s important to understand the difference between them. Okay, so I am going to be talking about these more in next week’s podcast. So I’m just going to highlight the differences. Now as part of solution five, but then join me next week for the podcast as I’m going to do a deeper dive into these because they’re really important. So just quickly as part of solution five, a concern is a valid issue grounded in reality and based on facts. a complaint is when a concern becomes more pronounced, and it’s impacting the work and a criticism is a global critique of the individual it’s typically not helpful and should be avoided. Okay, so that’s how I’m going to leave you with for solution five, but join me next week because I’m going to do a deep dive on these three things and it’s so important to understand the difference on those. Okay. So that is that is all I will say on that now.
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:12
But I hope that you can see the value of communicating concerns at work is how we progress, and how we grow together both as a team and as an organization, because you’ve got big, you’ve got big dreams, you’ve got big things to do. And so we’ve got to be able to tackle the challenges at work. And so quickly as a review, let’s just review the solution. So the first one is to hold space. So hold space for one another, that also includes psychological safety. I’ll link to that that podcast, too, is to start with good intent. Always, always, always, we want to stay away from those attribution and observer pious errors. Three, we want to know your signs, know your stress signs. And four, we want to check your stories, we want to stay out of storytelling, and five, we want to know the difference between a concern, a complaint and a criticism. And then of course, join me next week for a deep dive into the differences on those three things. Okay. Make sure to head on over to my website to check out the show notes and get all the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/communicating concerns. That’s all one word at www.drmelissasmith.com/communicating concerns. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai