You may have noticed back in school, during class presentations, that some would rather play with their pens than listen to the person talking in front of the class. They’re either doodling, or whispering with their seatmate, or just plain not paying attention. You may even be doing it yourself.
The same can happen in the office. People would rather not listen to a leader, especially while the team is navigating difficult conversations. Here are some things you can do to keep people’s eyes and ears on you during important times.
Understanding Gain: Why People Want to Listen to Confident People
According to Dr. Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn’s research at the University of Sussex, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, it was discovered that human brains are designed to value confident people’s opinions highly.¹
Twenty-three healthy volunteers joined the study and results showed that a person’s expectations of success can be influenced by personal experience, learning the beliefs of the majority of people, and learning the beliefs of confident people.
The first two factors affect the brain’s reward system, which predicts how satisfied people can be because of an outcome. The third one adds more to this reward system. Dr. Campbell-Meiklejohn says that this confidence we see in other people can give us reassurance for our actions.
Leading the Talk: Handling Difficult Conversations with Confidence
You most likely have faced many tough conversations before, some of which you didn’t know how to face properly. You’ll do fine and better on the next ones if you become more confident in handling them.
Communication expert Michelle Gladieux says that there are four difficult challenges to confident communication: you’re possibly hiding from risk, you’re defining to be right, you are rationalizing the negative, or you are settling for the outcome to be just “good enough”. Avoid these blind spots to be more genuine to yourself and to the person you are talking to.
1. Identify the facts at hand and where you stand through journaling.
Journaling can help you organize your thoughts. You can make this a daily habit or do it on occasion for situations like learning how to navigate challenging talks. Start by listing down all the facts.²
For example, if the problem at hand is about a security threat in the office, identify the source of the threat. Trace which computers and devices were affected and list those down as well.
If you own the first affected device, go back and see what you did when it happened. Ask yourself what everyone can learn from it. Be humble and stick to the facts. List down the people you can tap for help in resolving the issue.
2. Try out box breathing and other meditations before the talk.
Also known as square breathing, this type of deep breathing exercise is done by distracting your mind. It can help ease your panic and worry and calm you down while preparing for the day.
Start by choosing between a standing, lying, or sitting position. Place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach. Normally breathe for a minute. Focus on the rising and falling of your chest. Notice that your stomach is moving along with your chest to know that you are breathing deeply.
Start the process by inhaling through your nose and slowly counting to four. Hold your breath for four seconds as you feel your lungs. Slowly exhale through your mouth for four seconds. Repeat the process until you feel more focused.³
3. Consider the situation from their perspective to be more empathetic.
Empathy in problematic situations makes resolving it easier. 72 percent of employees agree that empathy can help them be more motivated at work, while 84 percent of employers believe that it is an effective factor for better business results.⁴
Do more than active listening. Be empathic and show that you’re being attentive and responsive to someone’s input during a discussion. Emotionally connect with the other person by finding similarities between your experience and theirs, so that you can provide more heartfelt replies.
If they mention that they were worried about offending you, you may respond that you were feeling anxious about scaring them with the confrontation. Be on equal ground whenever possible.
4. Stick to the facts to avoid assumptions.
As you navigate difficult conversations, avoid bringing up your assumptions. This can lead to the other person thinking you were judging them to do something they wouldn’t. Imagine telling someone that you thought they cheated. They may think that you hate them or were already gossiping behind their backs.
If you already brought it up, apologize without defending yourself to be more sincere. Remember to stick to the facts and ask them for what they’ve gathered as well, so that you may look at things together with care. Even though this may be difficult, have a peaceful discussion.
5. Ask the right questions.
When it comes to solving issues, ask questions that cover finding solutions and stabilizing a relationship that can be affected by the said conversation.
Remember that their insights are as important as yours. Asking the right questions can help someone who is having difficulty expressing themselves speak up.
- “Where should we start fixing this?”
- “What do you think is the root of the problem?”
- “Is there anything I can help you with?”
- “Is there anyone else who can help us?”
6. Be open and confident in your gestures.
Displaying body language can give off different signals to the other person you are speaking with. The right gestures can help translate what you truly mean and can avoid any misinterpretations. You would want to be respected and believed, so the right posture does count.
Practicing good posture and gestures while talking with someone can help boost your confidence because it makes you more aware of how you look to others. Having the right body language may also help build relationships with others and can help them make better judgments during difficult situations, through non-verbal communication.⁵ Here are some actions to take note of:
- Face: Tilt your chin up and it will keep you looking confident and more engaged. This can also help you focus on the person you’re talking to instead of being distracted by things you can find on the floor. Be mindful of your facial expressions as well. Smile or nod when necessary.
- Hands: Keep your hands away from your pockets. Use hand gestures or keep them on your lap when sitting. This lets the other person know you are open to feedback.
- Eyes: Look at a spot near their eyes to help pay attention. Practice this until you’re more comfortable looking them straight in the eye.
- Feet: Stand still in a wide stance to give the signal that you are engaged in the discussion. This can also help you avoid swaying and other unnecessary movements.
7. Respect each other’s personal space.
Lean towards the person you are talking to. This tells them that you are interested in what they are saying. However, maintain a space of two to three feet apart, just near enough for a handshake and far enough to respect their personal space.
8. Brainstorm solutions together.
End difficult conversations with solutions. In coming up with solutions together, always explain the “why” so that you may understand each other better.
If you’re having difficulty resolving the issue at the moment, discuss the actions you will be taking. Agree on a deadline when you will discuss your next steps to find the solution.
9. Follow up on your next steps.
At your next meeting, you may want to ask first how they’re doing. Connect with them first before talking about what you should be doing together.
If the last conversation ended badly, take this time to apologize and reassure them of your plans for moving forward together. This can help you fix things further and lets your colleague know that you mean your words.
A difficult conversation can be resolved as long as you are genuine in your agenda and are willing to make peace with the other person and the situation.
Read More on Communication: 5 Best Ways for Project Managers to Overcome Scope Creep
Be a genuine listener to be a more effective leader.
When you listen to your people, you grow even more as a leader. This opens your eyes to brighter perspectives that you can apply in improving your work operations in the future. Be humble enough to enjoy learning, including from subordinates.
ON-DEMAND GROUP CAN HELP YOU FORM A TEAM YOU CAN BE CONFIDENT IN.
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1 Reed, Patrick. “How Our Brains Are Biologically Tuned to Be Influenced by Confident People.” University of Sussex, 13 Dec. 2016, https://archive.sussex.ac.uk/news/press-releases/id/38316?id=38316.
2 Zeigler, Karen. “Day 26: The Power of Listening to Unlock Your Confidence.” LinkedIn, 27 June 2020, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/day-26-power-listening-unlock-your-confidence-karen-zeigler/.
3 “Box Breathing: Getting Started with Box Breathing, How to Do It, Benefits and Tips.” WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-box-breathing
4 Eatough, Erin. “How to Have Difficult Conversations at Work: 5 Key Steps.” BetterUp.com, 4 June 2021, https://www.betterup.com/blog/how-to-have-difficult-conversations.
5 Indeed Editorial Team. “13 Ways to Show More Confident Body Language” Indeed, Updated 4 February 2023, https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/confident-body-language.