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7 Ways To Stop a Negative Conversation Immediately

 

We’ve all been there at some point in time. You’re having a nice conversation with a friend. You talk about the weather or grilling in the backyard to break the ice. You might get asked about your family, your health, or if you like the new break room at work. Then, as if it were scripted, the conversation turns negative.

Now I know we all need to vent sometimes because frustration levels have built up to the point where it feels like an internal explosion is about to occur. I’m not talking about venting here, the use of coping skills, or dealing with difficult emotions. That’s a healthy process. Focusing on the negative components of what happens in the world around you is an unhealthy process.

Here’s the good news. You can recognize this negativity before it gets out of hand and then stop it from having a death grip on your conversation. This is how you do it.

#1. Change the perspective. There is a positive way to look at virtually every difficult circumstance that happens throughout the day. It’s not always to see that positivity on your own, but you can certainly look for it when someone is trying to make the conversation become negative. Reframe the issue being discussed so that the negative energy doesn’t receive the outlet it wants.

#2. Change the words. Words are powerful. They have a dramatic impact on each of us every day. Certain words are designed to be negative. Words like “stubborn” or “hate” or even offensive words you wouldn’t want someone to say in front of children. It’s easy to let words like these slide, but they contribute to the negative energy a conversation may have. Choose positive alternatives which still get the point across, but won’t let negativity fester.

#3. Change the memories. We often associate failure with negative emotions. Failure, however, can also be one of the most powerful motivators to strive toward real success. If you know this person has achieve something great, especially in the recent past, then revisit that event. Remind them of the positive emotions. It can help to diffuse the negativity rather quickly.

#4. Change the tone. It’s easy to inadvertently cause negativity to grow because of our own words. Offense can happen even thought it is unintended. Instead of becoming defensive, try being quick to apologize instead. When it happens to you, give the other person the opportunity to do the right thing as well. Sometimes we just have to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

#5. Change the dynamic. Ask for clarity. Maybe you heard something negative that wasn’t actually negative at all. Asking a question about what you’ve heard will help to make sure you’re on the same page.

#6. Change the balance. When you allow negative energy to corrupt a conversation, you’re also allowing the other person or people involved in that conversation to have power over you. This leaves you feeling miserable and for me, it can even cause me to lose my focus for the rest of the day. Our feelings are caused by our choices. We can choose to be positive, even when everyone else is being negative. Go into every conversation refusing to get upset.

#7. Change the priority. The project is due in 3 weeks. Your co-worker is being extremely negative because they feel pressured to get the job done right now. By shifting the priority of issues, you can stop a negative roadblock from appearing.

Negative conversations are always going to happen. When you’re prepared for them, you can turn that negative energy into something a little more positive. This helps to reduce the stress levels we often feel at work, especially when certain co-workers want to come talk with us about something.

How do you handle negative conversations? I’d love to hear some of your strategies that you’ve found help to diffuse the negative energies that others may try to bring your way. 

3 Things You Should Do At Every Meeting

Meetings can be beneficial when proper preparations are made for them. The only problem is that many people treat meetings as an unwanted necessity instead of something that can potentially benefit them. I see this happen all the time. People go to meetings without even thinking about the topics that will be discussed, feel lost during the meeting, and then don’t apply any of the concepts that were communicated to them afterward.

This is why I’ve instituted what I call the “post-meeting wrap-up.” It’s a few minutes after a meeting where we informally get together and go over the key points that were discussed one more time. If assignments were handed out, I’ll review those one more time. The goal is to cover these 3 things.

#1. Review the decisions and steps decided upon.

There can be a lot of information offered in a meeting and sometimes people get lost trying to sort out the data. By taking a few moments to review the key decisions that were made and what the next steps will need to be, I can make sure that everyone gets onto the same page. This lessens the amount of time spent individually reviewing these topics with those who might have gotten lost in the shuffle.

I like to use flow charts to communicate which people are responsible for specific action steps because this gives people a visual reference to understand what their role happens to be. Flip charts, spreadsheet handouts, or your preferred tools can also work here to reinforce the decisions made and actions that must be taken.

#2. Get communication points developed.

It always happens. Once I’m out of a meeting, someone comes up to me and asks me what happened. I want the people in my meetings to have the same answer when they get asked this question. It eliminates a lot of the gossip which develops when different answers come from meeting attendees.

To do this, I like to ask the group what they felt were the most important items we discussed during the meeting. We’ll talk about what the vision of our action steps happens to be, what our mission statement will be as we move forward, and the value of the core ideas we’ve all discussed. It’s not that I want people to hand out a scripted response. I just want us all on the same page, communicating the same ideas from the individual’s perspective.

#3. Ask for feedback about the meeting.

It would be naïve to think that I’m perfect in every meeting. I might forget to send out planning materials. My presentation might have been a little confusing. People in the meeting might not have felt included. Sometimes I can catch these issues on my own, but I want to catch them all so I can make each meeting be a little bit better. That’s why I always ask for feedback before everyone heads back to work.

I prefer asking for feedback immediately instead of waiting to send out an email later because the meeting is fresh in the minds of its participants right after it concludes. An email for feedback is also easy to delete or ignore. This allows me to make sure everyone got the message I wanted them to receive and vice-versa.

Meetings aren’t always fun, but they can be useful with the right plan of action. These are the steps I follow and it has helped me see a nice increase in productivity levels and consistency in the action steps which we take afterward.

Do you have strategies that you use to make meetings more effective? I’d love to hear about some of the ideas you’ve implemented to make your meetings more productive.

How You Can Be an Extrovert in Your Next Meeting

I hate talking in meetings. Even “hate” may not be a strong enough word. Everyone watches you talk, judging every word you say, waiting to pounce on something with which they may disagree. You have to convince everyone of your expertise, become vulnerable, and sometimes you even have to speak above the loudest voices in the room. It’s enough to turn even the biggest extrovert into an introvert.

That’s actually my secret to being able to engage in meetings. You can become an extrovert by following many of the traits introverts have when it comes to a conversation. I listen first. I process all of the information that is coming my way. Then I speak only when I have a well-thought opinion that can influence the discussion in what I believe will be a positive way.

There are other ways that can help you engage confidently with others during a meeting when you don’t really want to say anything. Here are some of the methods that help me and hopefully they’ll be of help to you as well.

#1. Do your prep work before the meeting. It always comes down to your information. If you don’t know what’s going to be discussed at a meeting, then you’re going to have a steep learning curve in a chair that will probably be uncomfortable. Take an hour or two before the meeting, go through the information that will be discussed, and you’ll be able to think on your feet – or in your seat – more effectively.

#2. Be forthright. There will be questions that someone may ask that you cannot answer right away in a meeting. Instead of trying to fake it to make it, try offering a honest approach. I like to say something like this: “That’s a great question. I’ll need to think through that for a bit to give you a good answer.” You can ask people to come back to you. You can say you need time to research the subject. If you need extra time, I’ve found there’s nothing wrong in asking for it.

#3. Practice your public speaking. Whether you’re in a meeting with 5 people or 500 people, the butterflies in your stomach will float around when it’s time to make a presentation. This is why I make sure there is time to practice my presentation before I have to make it. My family are often my first draft volunteers, but I also try to make sure I have a dress rehearsal with some trusted co-workers. This way I can get feedback, know where my stumbling points are, and be able to reinforce my confidence. I also highly recommend Toastmasters.

#4. Learn to ignore your discomforts. Some people get so worked up that they get sweaty or red in the face when they have to speak in meetings. I’ve even met folks who break out in hives – as if they were allergic to speaking during a meeting. People go to meetings for ideas. They’ll ignore your discomfort if you can present a solid idea. As you get more comfortable, these physical symptoms will typically disappear as well. Take a few deep breaths, push forward, and you’ll find people are listening more than they are looking.

#5. Contribute by asking questions. Sometimes there really isn’t anything for me to say during a meeting, but I might be asked to contribute anyway. In those times, I like to ask questions about what I’ve heard. I always write down a question or two so I can start a discussion if called upon and this helps as it seem like I’m speaking when in reality I’m encouraging others to speak instead.

You can hate meetings, but still get a lot out of them with the right approach. Take the lessons learned from the introverts and use that to be an extrovert when needed at your next meeting, even if you don’t want to be there.

How do you handle dealing with difficult speaking situations at work? I’d love to hear about some of your strategies and coping mechanisms and how you use them.

Is That Meeting Really Necessary?

The email notification comes in at the worst possible time. I’ve got 5 things that need to be done, all with critical importance, and not enough time to even get one task completed. Another meeting has been scheduled and it has been “strongly suggested” that I attend. Just about any issue that comes up at work prompts us to schedule a meeting these days, doesn’t it?

Sometimes meetings can be a good thing. Often meetings are treated as if they were a Google search instead. If a solution isn’t found instantly, let’s see if someone else can do that for us, right? Here is the process I try to follow when I’m deciding whether a meeting is necessary or not.

#1. Review the situation. Sometimes all I have to do is ask someone a question if I’m seeking clarity on an issue. Sometimes I can coordinate with others over the phone or with emails so the structure of a project can be created. Instead of resorting to a default “let’s call a meeting” attitude, my rule is to strategically review each situation and to only call a meeting if I’ve exhausted every other resource.

#2. Who has the expertise? Just because I’ve been assigned a project doesn’t mean I’m the expert. Sometimes I need a little outside advice to make things happen. That’s a great time to schedule a meeting because you are bringing in resources you need. Far too often, however, the temptation is to seek out that advice when it may not be needed because I’d rather procrastinate on the project. That’s a bad time to schedule a meeting. Sometimes you just need to staple your pants to a chair and work.

#3. I need an answer right now. When I’m about to finish something, but I need a second opinion, it’s nice to have a real-time conversation with someone. I’ve found there’s no better way to get the feedback you need for a quality result. Sometimes that feedback doesn’t need to happen right away, which means a meeting isn’t really necessary. I can send an email or a voicemail and wait for them to get back with me. If I need fast feedback, then a meeting can be a good thing.

#4. What is the purpose? I like to have face-to-face meetings when I’m negotiating something. Although you can do this over a video call, the body language of the person across from me is something I want to see and only a face-to-face meeting can really convey that. Answering questions, training classes, or even conflict resolution can happen outside of a traditional meeting structure quite often and take less time when you do. That’s why I feel it is important to look at the purpose being considered first.

#5. What will be the time demands? If I pull 5 people into a meeting which lasts an hour, that’s 6 hours of productivity that may be loss [when I include myself]. Now think about 20 people in a 3 hour meeting or some of the other marathons we’ve all attended in the past. The time of a meeting must meet or exceed the value of each worker staying productive with their assigned tasks. If it does, then let’s do the meeting. If not, then let’s communicate in some other way.

I’ve found that by following this process, it has been possible to reduce the number of meetings I’ve had to request. As for the meeting requests you’ll receive… that’s a different story. How have you worked to reduce the number of meetings you’ve had to call at work? I’d love to hear some of your ideas and how they’ve worked for you.

How To Deal With a Boss That Is Narcissistic

If we haven’t had to work for one, we’ve seen others who have. It’s the boss who thinks their team is working for them instead of the company. I’ve seen such high levels of narcissism where a boss has specifically told people that they didn’t care what the company policies say or what the mission statement is. The order was simple: “I’m the boss and you’ll do as I say.”

It can be very difficult to deal with a narcissistic boss. Difficult, but not impossible. Here’s how I’ve worked on coping with this situation in the past and the insights I’ve gleaned from those experiences.

#1. Take care of yourself first. I’ve found that the first thing which tends to disappear when I’m around a boss that is narcissistic is my self-esteem. Without confidence, the narcissism you see every day will wear you down and eventually conquer you. Find an outlet outside of work that can help you deal with these difficult emotions. I’ve found this can really add to my resilience so I don’t end up losing myself in the stresses of the day.

#2. Cater to the ego. Until you find a new place to work, you’ll have to deal with the narcissism on a daily basis. Sometimes I’ve found the best way to handle that is to feed the ego. You don’t necessarily need to be come a “Yes” person, but a little flattery will take you a long way. Narcissists are good at smelling out a pretender, so look for something that you authentically admire and offer that as a compliment.

#3. Take the best out of what you see. I’ve discovered that everyone has moments of perfection which hover around them – even narcissistic bosses. Observe them. See the good things that they do. Find the best and then do your best to emulate it. Communication and vision tend to be two strengths of these bosses in particular, and those attributes are something worth developing within yourself.

#4. Be careful about challenges. Criticism is something a narcissistic boss will never accept. I’ve seen this time and time again. Even a simple challenge, like offering a sandwich for lunch when the boss wants pasta, can be enough to give you a 3 week headache. Remember this: your boss cares about what is good for them. They couldn’t care less about what affects the company unless it’s something that will boost their power, money, or influence.

#5. Avoid the gossip. I’ve seen narcissistic bosses stay at the office for 12 hours every day just to make sure there isn’t anything bad being said about them. Narcissism encourages paranoia, so even if you have the appearance of gossiping about the boss, this perception will become a reality and make your professional life difficult.

Ultimately you’ll need to determine if working for this boss is the right decision for you. Sometimes you can put up with the narcissism, but sometimes it can send you home angry every day and affect every other aspect of life. If you don’t love what you do, then trust me – make a healthy choice and consider leaving. There might be uncertainty at first, but eventually you can find a job… and a boss that you love.

How You Can Stop Passive Aggressive Behavior At Work For Good

“Are you a team player?”

It’s a question that is commonly asked during the interview process for almost every job on the planet. Hiring managers want to make sure that you’re not going to create conflict and reduce productivity. The only problem with this is that it has led to a lack of needed conflict on teams. We need to be able to openly air disagreements on ideas so the cream of the crop can rise to the surface. Conflict can actually foster better productivity.

When that conflict is not allowed, the result is team members stuffing their dissatisfaction internally. It begins to fester there, growing into a massive beast of hatred over time. Eventually these negative feelings must come out, which is when your team begins to see passive-aggressive behaviors. When you’ve reached the point of sarcastic comments and sabotage, then you’re in the danger zone of losing everything.

The good news is that it is never too late to solve the problem of passive-aggressiveness. Here’s how you can begin to stop it from rearing its ugly head starting today.

#1. Put a light on the elephant in the room. Acknowledge the feelings of dissatisfaction and hatred that people on the team are having. Take time out of your schedule, go to a neutral site, and then set ground rules about how to discuss dissension without being hurtful. Everyone on the team is valuable – otherwise they wouldn’t be there in the first place. You want all of their opinions. Make this fact known and be very clear about it.

#2. Make time for dissent in every conversation. Don’t allow dissatisfaction to be stuffed so it can fester. Ask team members in every conversation if there is some level of dissent about what is going on. You can do this by turning it into a devil’s advocate discussion. “How might someone want to criticize this idea?” or “What problems would someone potentially see if we implement this idea today?” This gives people a safe way to express their dissent without necessarily taking ownership of it, reliving the feelings of dissatisfaction.

#3. Give equal time to all opinions. Feedback is critical for a team to be consistently successful. Just because there is a dissenting opinion doesn’t mean that the dissent is incorrect. Explore that feedback and take whatever value you find out of it and use it to everyone’s advantage. You’ll always have people who want to disagree because that’s how they have fun at work, but even these folks have moments of inspiration that can be gleaned from their dissenting feedback. Take this seriously and your production levels will soar.

#4. Identify passive-aggressive behavior and confront it every time you see it. This is where many team members get into trouble. They have no problem calling out passive-aggressive behavior, but they’re not willing to offer solutions to fix the issue. When you confront this behavior, practice alternatives that are healthier for the team. Then give people a chance to express their dissent.

#5. Stop the back-channel sarcasm. This is where most efforts to reduce passive-aggressiveness tend to fail. Team members may gather for drinks after work, talk during a lunch break, or IM each other on Facebook over the weekend to feed their passive aggression. If you hear complaints outside of a team meeting, ask people to bring up their concerns there. Ask for new information. A team doesn’t have to 100% agree on everything, but they do need to be on the same page.

Passive-aggressiveness can be very costly. Not only does it cause a team to reduce their overall production, but it also creates high amounts of anxiety and stress for everyone involved. Be open, be honest, and most of all be direct about dissent and conflict when you see it and you’ll begin to reduce the passive-aggressive tendencies of your team over time.

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