What are we afraid of? In the workshops I teach on managing sticky situations at work, people describe the troubling situations they face every day. During those sessions we share information about how to diplomatically approach each situation. Too often people let matters go too long. By the time they say anything, they say it just wrong. They are tired of dealing with the matter or they are frustrated that the person hasn't picked up on their nonverbal cues. Whatever the reason, they chose not to say anything and by avoiding the problem, they’ve made matters worse.

Why are we so afraid to say what we need to say when we need to say it? Why do we let things go on so long?

Let’s examine a real example:

Marsha works in the dean’s office. Recently, a young Pakistani student, Kara, came to her office in tears. “I made a B in this class and I have to get an A,” Kara sobbed. Marsha explained that she cannot change grades. The student continued to sob and begged Marsha to help. Marsha contacted the instructor who told Marsha he would not change Kara’s grade. Marsha explained this to Kara, but Kara would not give up. She returned to Marsha’s office every day, crying and begging Marsha for help. One afternoon she was sitting outside Marsha’s door, crying. Embarrassed, Marsha asked the student to leave. She said to her, “This behavior cannot continue. I can’t help you. Go away and don’t come back. There’s nothing more I can do.” By now Marsha was mad, frustrated and embarrassed by the entire event.

What had Marsha missed? Perhaps sitting down with the crying student and listening to her point of view even if she couldn't change the grade would have helped. Why was the student so upset over a B? What else might be going on here? When Kara came to Marsha’s office the first time, Marsha contacted the instructor. After she did that, she felt she was finished. Was she? Could she have shown more compassion? Just because we can’t make everything right doesn’t mean we can’t listen and show compassion.

Here are some tips for Marsha:
• Don’t simply tell, listen. When Marsha learned that the grade was final, she simply informed the student. She didn’t listen to how that might affect her.
• Give the student some options. Find out what Kara wanted. Did she need a certain grade point average to keep a scholarship? Did she need a certain grade to maintain her status with her family? Once Marsha learns why this grade was so important, she can give Kara some options. Perhaps take fewer classes next semester. Perhaps engage a tutor.
• Solicit information from the student. Invite Kara to talk. “Tell me Kara, why is this grade so important?” If Kara says, “I just have to have an A.” That’s not enough information. Probe harder. “Tell me why the B grade is the end of the world. What will you lose by having a B in this class?”
• Really listen to Kara. Don’t be looking at your watch, anxious to toss her out of your office.
• When things are no longer in your control, i.e., Marsha could not change the grade, do not stop. Marsha could not change Kara’s grade and she could not influence the instructor to change her grade, but she could listen to Kara and help her see some options. In fact, don’t let Kara leave the office until she comes up with a plan of action. What will Kara do next? If Marsha’s doesn’t do this, Kara could return the next day in tears.

The truth is when we fear saying it just right; we put off what we should have done in the first place. Time makes matters worse. Things nag at us. We begin taking things personally that we otherwise would have dismissed. Our feelings interfere with our listening. Had Marsha spent quality time with Kara that first day and said it just right, she would not have had the unfortunate experience of finding a student at her door crying the next day and the next.

If you have a sticky situation, don't let it get stickier. Instead, gather up your courage and confront it with compassion and curiosity. Listen to the other person's point of view. Discover what it must be like to be in that person's skin. You may be surprised by what you learn!

To learn more about saying it just right, get Managing Sticky Situations at Work at http://www.stickysituationsatwork.com

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Joan Curtis is a communication coach, author, speaker and trainer. She recently published Managing Sticky Situations at Work: Communication Secrets for Success in the Workplace. You can find her at http://www.TotalCommunicationsCoach.com or http://www.stickySituationsAtWork.com