We’ve all been there. In the midst of a productive conversation with a colleague, something unexpected happens. It might be an awkward phrase or an unintended tone of voice, or maybe someone simply says something we don’t want to hear. Suddenly the conversation has veered off course and one or both of us now feels disregarded, disrespected, or just plain angry.
It’s common in these situations for one or both people to shut down and begin to avoid the conversation or, perhaps, each other entirely. It’s as if the conversational road disappears and we’re suddenly in off-road conditions that are full of nerve-wracking pitfalls and uncomfortable dust-ups as we make clumsy attempts to salvage the dialogue. We blame the other person, we lick our wounds, and we retreat inward. The problem is that these reactions are ineffective and destabilizing in business settings where team and one-on-one conversations are crucial for planning and productivity.