Having a Courageous Conversation at Work

by Rachel Vilsack

Sometimes conflict arises at work. While it might seem easier to avoid confronting a coworker, it’s often best for the work environment to tackle the issue head on. Otherwise the coworker or the situation will continue to trigger you, which can negatively impact your relationship with your coworker.

converHere are five steps for having a courageous conversation:

  1. Describe your desired outcome.  What I hope to achieve in this conversation is…
  2. Describe the situation or behavior.  When I experienced…
  3. Explain the impact. I feel/felt…
  4. Specify your need. Because I want/need/value…
  5. Describe what you want from the other person. Would you be willing to…

One key to having a courageous conversation is specifying your need. The other person is more likely to be open to what you are saying if your need is about you instead of him/her. Making it about your need instead of what you want from the other person allows the other person room to consider and act according to her/his own needs and values.

Consider this work-based scenario:

At a meeting of our peers, a supervisor of Pat’s and mine expressed displeasure that she (the supervisor) had not known about a change that Pat and I were aware of. I provided the details I had about the change. I could tell Pat was upset with me at the end of the meeting. I later learned that Pat told several of my co-workers that I betrayed her.

Here is a condensed version of a courageous conversation with Pat:

Pat, what I hope to achieve in this conversation is to understand your feelings about the meeting we recently had with our team and supervisor. When I heard that you shared your displeasure with our coworkers about the information I shared with our supervisor, it made me feel angry. Because I value our relationship, I want to understand why you were upset. The information I shared was public knowledge. Would you be willing to help me understand why you felt betrayed?

While having a courageous conversation can be difficult, not addressing conflict typically has lasting negative impact on relationships. By taking the time to share your observations, feelings, needs, and hopes for the future, you are investing in that work relationship.


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