Back in December I wrote here about a new concept, The 4 Workplace Conversations. 

It came out of a recent client case study. At the time I was facilitating a training session to help the senior leadership team of a client confront issues directly in a way that reduced workplace conflict.

This workplace communication model is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month. It’s application, I’m learning, has even deeper application than I originally realized.

You may want to revisit the original article with this graphic representation of The 4 Workplace Conversations model to get a general understanding. This article will focus on the conversation causing the biggest challenge in workplaces today.

You will find it represented in the lower right quadrant of the model, identified as The Wrong Conversation with the Right Person.

I’ve found two primary ways The Wrong Conversation with the Right Person plays out in the workplace.

One is the “hijacked” conversation and the other is the “elephant in the room” conversation. Conceptually, you may be more familiar with the latter than the former, although I’m confident you have experienced both in your workplace communication.

Hijacked Conversations

These situations occur in two contexts. One is where an individual is speaking with a superior with a very strong personality, communication style, and agenda.

Often, the subordinate feels intimidated, so despite having a strong need and desire to discuss a certain topic, they allow the superior to control the conversation.

When this occurs the subordinate leaves without having been able to neither make their point(s), nor get their workplace needs met, and they become frustrated and confused about their value to the organization.

The other context is on the other side of workplace performance. This is where someone is speaking with a subordinate or a peer about his or her individual performance, behavior or actions in need of correction. It may be the “constructive feedback” type of conversation.

Whichever it is, what occurs here is that the other person in conversation goes on a rambling tangent of blame, excuses and distraction.

Some are so good at this “wrong conversation” it creates uncertainty about what really occurred, creating so much confusion you decide to walk away without resolution.

Both of these “wrong conversations” are missed opportunities because the work up to the conversation takes a lot of time and energy. Sometimes getting the conversation on the calendar of the “right person” is a long time developing.

Once that appointment is complete, both sides assume the conversation that was supposed to take place, has, and revisiting it becomes difficult.

I call these “credibility and confidence killing conversations” because the person who does not get to make their point is at risk of losing credibility with the right person, while also reconciling in their own mind what happened. Often, these conversations cause a questioning of confidence and damage self-esteem.

The Elephant in the Room

The other “wrong conversation with the right person” is when the right people are in the room, aware of situations that need addressing but due to the sensitivity of the topic and fear of reactions, the topic is ignored or avoided.

These, like the hijacked conversations, are missed opportunities.

The more I coach, consult and train organizational leaders and their employees on workplace communication, the more prevalent I am finding these “wrong conversations.”

These “wrong conversations with the right person” are very difficult to identify and often, people do not even realize the wrong conversation is taking place until it’s too late.