Adventures in Personal Development: Preparing for a Difficult Conversation at Work

Very few people genuinely enjoy conflict, and those who seem to thrive on it tend to be the ones making the rest of us miserable, but in the workplace, conflict is inevitable. Solid personal development practices depend on employees working together and learning how to overcome workplace problems professionally and graciously. At the end of the day, you and your coworkers are a team working towards a common goal, and if you allow bad blood and frustrations to build and build until they boil over you’re only contributing to your own discomfort and impeding your own productivity and personal development.

So how do you deal with difficult conversations at work? There are plenty of different ways, some requiring a practical look at yourself and some requiring a practical look at the person in question or the conflict itself. Sensing a pattern? Personal development surrounding conflict resolution requires practicality, and with good reason. If we can take an objective look at ourselves, our adversaries, and the conflict in general, we’ll be able to make decisions about it that circumvent our tempting emotional responses that promise to make us feel better or more powerful while not actually providing a productive solution to the conflict at all.

Perception is Your Personal Development Ally

Most of the issues that come into play in office conflicts are related to the perception of the parties regarding the conflict. If we are given the opportunity to explain ourselves and afford our opponent the same courtesy, we may find ourselves on the same side, with only miscommunication to blame.

In an article from the Harvard Business Review, Liane Davey outlines the problem of perception and how adjusting our minds can be an excellent personal development strategy in the workplace. Davey suggests picturing two people from the workplace, the one whom you like or get along with the least, who makes you sigh inwardly when you’re teamed up or when they stop by your office or speak up in a meeting. The other should be the person you get along with best, the one who has your back and whom you enjoy working with most. She then outlines a scenario in which you receive the same, completely innocuous email from both coworkers asking to discuss a mistake with a project. How do you react when it’s from the coworker you dislike? How about the one you work well with?

Herein lies the problem with perception, and it’s at the core of our personal development. We are much more likely to take offense at a baseline neutral email from a coworker whom we don’t get along with than one whom we do. If we can make strides in our personal development towards adjusting that perception bias, we can move towards rectifying our conflicts with just about anyone.

One of the best ways to deal with perception bias is to practice empathy, as described by Amy Gallo. Make a habit of trying to see things from your colleagues’ perspectives. Ask yourself what your goals would be if you were them, and see if that lends you some insight into the way they are presenting themselves or the way you perceive them.

Our Bodies Shape Our Minds and our Personal Development

In an amazing presentation from Amy Cuddy on TED.com, research is presented for the notion that our body language shapes our mind. This becomes vastly important in our social interactions and our personal development. The basis of the research is that when we consciously change our body language, instead of allowing our emotions to guide our bodies, we can actually shape our feelings and perceptions. For example, when someone faces a high-stress situation, such as a difficult conversation with a colleague, the days, hours, or minutes leading up to it may contribute to body language. The person may hunch up and make themselves small, taking on a protective posture that actually decreases confidence and increases stress on a hormonal level.

Cuddy’s research shows, however, that just two minutes of what she calls “power posing” can alter this drastically. Instead of allowing your body to respond to the anxiousness of the anticipated discussion, you focus on forcing your body language into a position that your body associates with power or confidence, thus causing your hormones to adopt high-power, low-stress levels, which prepare your mind for the conversation at hand.

The effect of this practice on personal development is the presence of confidence and the ability to lift yourself out of the stress of the anticipated conversation, thus giving your mind its best chance to deal with the anxiety and stress.

Personal Development as an Ongoing Practice

In conclusion, personal development in the workplace takes many forms. Every employee should be consistently making an effort to develop the technical aspects of their work skills, but not to the neglect of their interpersonal skills as well. By changing your outward perception or your inward perception, you will find that you are making strides towards personal development in all facets of the workplace.

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