top of page

10 Ways to Redirect a Conversation: Creating Safety for Ourselves


10 Ways to Redirect a Conversation: Creating Safety for Ourselves

Ever noticed how feeling safe at work goes beyond just physical safety? Much of that sense of safety is wrapped up in our dialog with others. When those conversations go sideways it feels unsafe and we are less likely to engage in the future.

 

Safety in this framework is about being able to speak up, share ideas, and be yourself without holding back. Imagine a workplace where you're free to express yourself without fear of judgment or backlash. The ability to redirect those conversations and create the safety we crave is a blackbelt skill more of us need.

 

When we are not dreading the next loaded conversation, we can build trust, collaboration, and innovation that helps us thrive. Whether you are flying solo, or part of a large team, feeling safe where we are spending most of our time is something we all want. But let's face it – feeling safe isn't always a given.

 

Sometimes, we must be the ones to create that safety for ourselves.

 

As mentioned, we’ve all had everyday conversations (both at work and beyond) that quickly took a nosedive. One wrong move, one misinterpreted word, and bam – we're knee-deep in a standoff or worse, a full-blown conflict. What the heck? How can we redirect it, and return to the safer conversational territory?

 

Sometimes the other person who takes us on a detour into unsafe territories, leaving us feeling startled, hurt, or even frightened.

 

But here's the uncomfortable truth – we are just as capable of being the ones who go right off the “safety” rails.

 

In reality, we've got more power than we think when it comes to shaping our work experiences and navigating those tricky conversations.

 

So, are you showing up as your safe self in those crucial moments?

 

Recently I was speaking with a client about how most of those tough conversations we dread are more about the stories we tell ourselves than the actual discussion itself. Surprise, surprise – when we rewrite the story, our entire approach changes, and suddenly, those daunting discussions are easy and satisfying.  

 

But what about those other difficult conversations? You know, the ones with that person who always seems to make you feel on edge no matter what you do or say? Well, here's the thing – when we feel safe within ourselves, we can bravely dive into those important conversations, even with someone who's got a knack for making things feel unsafe.

 

They are not the source of our safety. We are!

 

We have the power to set boundaries, express ourselves assertively, and advocate for our needs. And who knows? Maybe by leading with courage and vulnerability, we can even inspire positive change in others and redirection conversations that need a reset. And, look, if a situation is seriously, toxically unsafe, then what are you trying to prove by staying there? Safety first. Redirect where you can.

 

The big idea for leaders is that once we feel safe with ourselves, we become safe for our team.

 

Want to spot those blind spots where you might unintentionally be the unsafe one? Keep reading. Here are several ways we can act unsafe, each with an example of an unsafe statement, then an alternate safe one for consideration.


Redirect Conversations

While the following 10 examples are not all-inclusive, they are the most common unsafe conversational behaviors. You may also find as you explore, that they also can be disturbingly similar to some of your own internal dialog. If that’s the case, I have great news. You can turn it around even in your own head by flipping the script.

 

Dismissiveness:

Dismissing alternative approaches or outcomes without considering their merits can make discussions unsafe. If one party consistently shuts down ideas without proper consideration, it can discourage others from sharing their perspectives.


Unsafe Exchange: Person A: "I think we should consider trying a different marketing strategy for this campaign." Person B: "That's a terrible idea. We've always done it this way, and it's worked fine. We don't need to change anything."


Safe Exchange: Person A: "I think we should consider trying a different marketing strategy for this campaign." Person B: "Thank you for sharing your idea. Let's discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of your suggestion and how it aligns with our goals."

 

Personal attacks:

Resorting to personal attacks or criticism during discussions can create a hostile environment. When individuals feel attacked or belittled for their ideas or opinions, they are less likely to engage in open dialogue.


Unsafe Exchange: Person A: "I have concerns about the approach you're proposing." Person B: "You're just being negative because you didn’t come up with it yourself. I have to do all the thinking. Why don't you try coming up with an idea for once?"

 

Safe Exchange: Person A: "I have concerns about the approach you're proposing." Person B: "I appreciate your feedback. Can you elaborate on your concerns so we can address them constructively?"

 

Rigidity:

Approaching discussions with a rigid mindset that only one approach or outcome is acceptable can stifle creativity and innovation. When there's no room for flexibility or exploration of alternative ideas, individuals may feel hesitant to contribute.


Unsafe Exchange: Person A: "I think we should explore alternative solutions to this problem." Person B: "No, that's not how we do things here. We've already decided on the best approach, and we're sticking to it."


Safe Exchange: Person A: "I think we should explore alternative solutions to this problem." Person B: "I understand your perspective. Let's brainstorm different options and evaluate their potential effectiveness."

Redirection Conversations

Dominance:

Allowing one person or a subset of individuals to dominate the discussion can make others feel marginalized or ignored. When certain voices overpower others, it can create a sense of inequality and inhibit open dialogue.

 

Unsafe Exchange: Person A: "I have some ideas for improving our project timeline." Person B (interrupting): "I don't have time to listen to your ideas right now. We just need to stick to the plan I've already outlined."

 

Safe Exchange: Person A: "I have some ideas for improving our project timeline." Person B: "That’s great. Let's take some time to discuss your ideas and see how they can complement the current plan."

 

Lack of inclusivity:

Failing to invite or include all relevant stakeholders in the discussion can lead to feelings of exclusion or alienation. When individuals are left out of the conversation, they may perceive the discussion as unfair or biased.

 

Unsafe Exchange: Group discussion where only certain team members are invited to participate, while others are excluded based on their job titles or perceived importance.

 

Safe Exchange: Ensuring that all relevant stakeholders are invited to participate in the discussion, regardless of their job titles or perceived importance, to ensure diverse perspectives are considered.

 

Defensiveness:

Reacting defensively to feedback or alternative perspectives can shut down meaningful discussion. When individuals feel attacked or criticized for their ideas, they may become defensive and unwilling to engage constructively.

 

Unsafe Exchange: Person A: "I think there might be a better approach to solving this problem." Person B: "My way works fine. Changing now will impact everything else we’re trying to accomplish, and slow me down to go back and redo it."

 

Safe Exchange: Person A: "I think there might be a better approach to solving this problem." Person B: "I'm interested in hearing your perspective. Can you explain why you think another approach might be more effective?"


Redirection Conversations

Lack of empathy:

Ignoring or disregarding the concerns or perspectives of others can create an unsafe environment. When individuals feel that their concerns are not being acknowledged or understood, they may disengage from the discussion altogether.

 

Unsafe Exchange: Person A: "I'm struggling to keep up with the workload. I could use some help." Person B:  “You think it’s bad for you? You should see all my emails! We're all busy. You are just going to have to find a way to get through it like the rest of us."

 

Safe Exchange: Person A: "I'm struggling to keep up with the workload. I could use some help." Person B: "I hear you. Let's discuss how we can redistribute tasks or find additional resources to support you."

 

Power imbalances:

Unequal power dynamics within the group can make discussions unsafe. When individuals perceive that their input carries less weight due to their position or status within the organization, they may be reluctant to share their ideas or concerns.

 

Unsafe Exchange: Junior team member: "I have an idea to streamline our process and save time on the project." Senior team member (interrupting with condescension): "We've been doing this for years, kiddo. Trust me, we know what we're doing. You’ll get it as we go through this presentation."

 

Safe Exchange: Junior team member: "I have an idea to streamline our process and save time on the project." Senior team member: "Great! A fresh perspective is always welcome. Say a little more about it. You are here to help be a part of gathering valuable insights."

 

Failure to set ground rules:

Without clear guidelines for respectful communication and collaboration, discussions can quickly devolve into unproductive arguments or conflicts. Setting ground rules for how discussions should be conducted can help create a safer and more inclusive environment.

(Assume the ground rule at issue is to not interrupt before actively listening to the first person and understanding completely.)

 

Unsafe Exchange: Person A: “I was wondering about the amount of time to plan for on this project…” Person B (interrupting): “Look, they all take the time they take. I have no idea. It has to be done as fast as we can.”

 

Safe Exchange: Person A: “I was wondering about the amount of time to plan for on this project since I also am on Ann’s project that might overlap.” Person B: “That’s a great point I was not aware of. I’m not sure exactly when this project will be completed, but do you know when Anne’s project begins? Maybe we can move your part up in the schedule.”

 

Ignoring dissenting opinions:

Failing to acknowledge or address dissenting opinions can signal to participants that their input is not valued. When individuals feel that their perspectives are being ignored or dismissed, they may become disillusioned with the discussion process.

Unsafe Exchange: Person A: "I think we should extend the deadline so we can do the quality control thoroughly." Person B (interrupting): "That's not going to happen. We've already exceeded the client's deadline, and we can't afford to delay the project for your extra quality control. Sometimes good just has to be good enough."

 

Safe Exchange: Person A: "I think we should ask the client to extend the deadline so we can include some important additional content in the project." Person B: "I see why you are asking for that. Let's discuss the potential impact on the project timeline and if we might present the request to the client in a way that emphasizes the value of the additional quality control."

 

Why Do We Respond Unsafely To Others (and Ourselves)?

Redirection Conversations

 

The behaviors and actions that make discussions unsafe, such as dismissiveness, personal attacks, rigidity, and dominance, can stem from various underlying factors. Some of the reasons why these behaviors occur include:

 

  1. Fear of change: People may resist different approaches or outcomes because they fear the unknown or are uncomfortable with change. This fear can manifest as defensiveness or rigidity in discussions.

  2. Insecurity: Individuals may feel threatened by alternative perspectives or ideas, especially if they perceive them as a challenge to their competence or authority. Insecurity can lead to defensive or dismissive behavior toward others' contributions.

  3. Power dynamics: Hierarchical structures within organizations or social groups can create power imbalances that influence how individuals interact with each other. Those in positions of authority may exert dominance or dismissiveness, while those with less power may feel reluctant to speak up.

  4. Lack of empathy: Failure to empathize with others can result in dismissive or disrespectful behavior during discussions. When individuals are unable to understand or appreciate others' perspectives, they may inadvertently undermine the safety of the discussion environment.

  5. Cognitive biases: Cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias (favoring information that confirms preexisting beliefs) or the halo effect (attributing positive traits to individuals we like), can influence how people perceive and respond to differing viewpoints. These biases can lead to closed-mindedness and a lack of receptivity to alternative perspectives.

  6. Competition: In competitive environments, individuals may prioritize their own interests or agendas over collaboration and cooperation. It happens with multiple departments, projects with competing deadlines, various generations vying for a preferred process, and countless other underlying factors. This competitive mindset can fuel dismissive or hostile behavior toward others' ideas or contributions.

  7. Cultural norms: Cultural norms within organizations or social groups can shape how discussions are approached and how individuals interact with each other. Norms that prioritize conformity or deference to authority may discourage open dialogue and dissenting opinions.

  8. Communication skills: Poor communication skills, such as a lack of active listening or empathy, can contribute to misunderstandings and conflict during discussions. When individuals struggle to effectively express themselves or understand others, it can undermine the safety of the discussion environment.

  9. Emotional triggers: Past experiences, traumas, or personal biases can serve as emotional triggers that influence how individuals engage in discussions. These triggers may cause individuals to react defensively or aggressively when confronted with ideas or perspectives that evoke strong emotional responses.

  10. Organizational culture: The culture of an organization or social group plays a significant role in shaping interpersonal dynamics and communication norms. Cultures that prioritize competitiveness, aggression, or hierarchical authority may inadvertently foster unsafe discussion environments.

 

Redirection Conversations

Overall, creating a safe and inclusive environment for solution-focused and growth-centric discussions requires addressing these underlying factors through fostering empathy, promoting open-mindedness, establishing clear communication norms, and addressing power imbalances. Leaders and participants alike play a crucial role in cultivating an environment where diverse perspectives are valued, and respectful dialogue is encouraged.

 

99 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page