Ask Laura: Help I’m afraid to ask my employee…

Help! I am a doctor and I am afraid to ask my employee how she feels about certain things at our office, and with her job honestly, because I am afraid of what she will say.  How do you suggest I have this conversation?

Laura’s Response: 

I am not a worrier.  I am not sure if that is a good thing or not, but I don’t play scenarios through my head over and over.  I don’t worry about conversations that I need to have with others often.  I don’t stress over what people might say or think when I talk to them.  Like I said, I am not sure if that is a good thing or not.  I am sure there are times when that got me into trouble with some people. I tend to take a direct approach and do not think ahead of time how to say things in the best way possible.  

That being said, I think that there are a ton of people out there that worry a bit too much about things that have not happened.  I talk to doctors and team members alike that have had the best intention to have a discussion they need/should have but have not for this reason. They are concerned about one thing or another and that stops them from having the conversation all together, which honestly is worse than having a bad conversation in my opinion.  

Therefore, I have some suggestions that might help those of you in the latter scenario:

First, try to stop worrying and just have the conversation.  Many times the longer you wait the worse it gets for you and causes you more stress than the actual conversation itself.  You don’t want to go into any conversation without a level head. If you are in the right mindset it is better to just handle it as soon as you can, rather than let it build inside of you. 

Next, go into it with the right attitude.  To many times we go into conversations with people either looking to “win” or come to a final solution.   Those communications are confrontations, challenges, disagreements or fights.  The attitude that you need to easily go in without worry is to have a conversation. 

The actual definition of conversation is; a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged.

When you go in with the attitude of an informal two-way communication where ideas are exchanged, it lowers the stress level associated with it.  Go into it with the plan to have the back and forth communication, not looking for a particular outcome except to get the conversation started and to learn more about their idea or thoughts.  

Your goal regarding this discussion should be to learn more about them and their ideas, or whatever the topic is about, and to share yours with them.  Most hard conversations are usually just a gap between two people’s opinions, thoughts, memory of a situation or idea. You need to go in with the goal or outcome of better understanding, not necessarily agreement.  When you recognize that is your goal, you can more easily be open to asking how they feel about something and telling them your thoughts, without feeling the need to come to a conclusion or an agreement.  

Finally, it is important that some conversations need to take place over time.  When you put pressure on yourself that you need a resolution the very first time you talk about a subject, it makes that discussion much harder. You can put less pressure on yourself by explaining to the other person that you are just starting the discussion to understand where they are coming from and to share your perspective.  It may take a few more attempts to complete your conversation, but at least you have begun the process.  

Ensure that you have plenty of time for the conversation. And talk as long as it is productive. Pause the conversation if things get confrontational, or are no longer productive.  Go separate ways to let it all sink in.  Allow enough time that you are able to explain what you want to talk about and to be able to have a two-way conversation that can be revisited in the future. Afford the other person to have the time to know what you want to talk to them about but also to be able have a two way communication and then revisit in future conversations.  This will allow both of you to be thoughtful to not say something either of you will regret later.  It will also help build trust between the two of you to know that even tough conversations can be had without the need to worry.