As an executive coach, I work with many people who are trying to figure out how to have better, less irritable, and less argumentative communications at work.
Many of my clients come for coaching help on this issue because they must navigate a workplace with stressed out, anxious people, including their bosses, who can often be pretty tired and crabby. Deadlines, making their numbers by the end of the month, fears about job loss, and a 24/7 workplace culture of accessibility take their toll on everyone, and contribute to pressure-cooker environments at many workplaces. Many of my clients tell me they feel out of control and worried at work. Maybe you do too. If so, you are not alone. It is likely that others at work feel the same way, and that includes your boss. If your workplace is stressful, what can you do to have a better workplace experience? How can you talk with people effectively to do what you need to accomplish with people who are, let’s face it, in a bad mood for good reasons? Try these three tactics to help navigate interactions at your stressed-out workplace.
“Sounds like you need / feel / said … Did I get that right?”
This is a question that helps you to clarify what the other person wants, needs, or said that was unclear to you. Instead of guessing, try this phrase to get greater clarity about the task or operation or intervention that needs to be done before you spend time doing it and possibly doing it wrong. The phrase, “Did I get that right?” is a great way to get anyone to restate or rephrase a need or request that was unclear without generating hostility. If you were to say “I don’t understand what you meant” or “You are not being clear” there is more of a chance that the other person will take offense, experience frustration with you, or blame you for failing to get it right because those statements are more confrontational. People who feel heard can problem solve better. Try this phrase instead and see if it helps even with crabby people!
“What do you need from me to make this go better?”
This phrase helps the other person feel listened to and supported. In an anxious, stressful workplace, you can be sure that everyone needs more support. Another good phrase that also helps the other person feel supported is simply: “How can I help you?” If you ask this question, the other person will usually feel a sense of relief and more in control because at least YOU are listening and caring. Try this question with co-workers and bosses who are stressed out and see if it helps them calm down.
“Help me understand more about what should be done…”
This phrase sets a positive tone for a conversation that might be difficult. Instead of blaming the other person by saying “You didn’t give me enough information,” you draw the person out by asking for additional information. The best approach with a difficult person or conversation is to be curious. When you start off the conversation with curiousness the other person does not feel personally assaulted. Another helpful phrase is “Can you say more about that?” or “Can you tell me more?” All of these phrases work to draw the person out without making him or her feel blamed for failing to provide enough information or mentoring for you to do the job you need to do. Instead, you are encouraging to the person to help you understand the assignment better.
Try out these phrases at work and use them at home too. They work incredibly well to help people who interact with you to feel supported and heard. When that happens, they will interact with you in a more positive way and your life will go better as a result.