Talk So Others Will Listen

Let's say you need to confront a colleague about his or her performance at work. Maybe she isn't pulling her weight in the back office or is careless in her work. Perhaps he causes confusion by giving vague instructions or not following agreed-to procedures. The result is resentment among team members, inefficiency, or maybe even compromised patient safety. But you dread the conversation you know you need to have. Hard message … hard feelings … and will you really have accomplished anything when all is said and done?

While this way of thinking about important conversations is typical, it is fundamentally flawed, say the authors of Dialogue Heals: Seven Crucial Conversations ® for the Healthcare Profession. "People don't become defensive because you have a hard message to deliver. They become defensive because they don't feel safe hearing the hard message from you. … If you can learn to create enough safety, people - regardless of their level or position - will let you say almost anything to them."

How do you create safety? The key, say the authors, is to step away from your own selfish interests regarding the problem at hand and to open the conversation by helping the other person know:

  1.  You care about his or her best interests.  
  2.  You care about and respect him or her .

People react less to what you say, and more to how you say it. If your message has an "us vs. you" tone, the other person will get defensive and stop listening. But if you couch what you have to say in terms of "you as part of the group," you will have a more receptive audience. 

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