As children, our parents teach us to be nice to others. We take this through our entire lives as a powerful tool for playing a valued role in society.
But there’s different kinds of nice.
One part is to use kind and respectful words in communication. That’s almost always a good idea, except under rare conditions when harshness is called for. Perhaps when you’re confronting a burglar in your house.
A more dangerous part of being nice is to be deferential, to let others have their way. THIS can get you into trouble, in many ways. Imagine that you let your children do whatever they wish, never setting boundaries. They’ll grow up to be hellions.
I’ve known people who had this problem at work as well, typically with a boss or forceful co-worker. Sometimes a manager will (on purpose or unintentionally) overstep what’s reasonable. At that point, no matter how uncomfortable, you have to establish boundaries and properly set expectations.
What’s reasonable? Well, imagined that you were hired to do a “full time job” of 40 hours per week. Then you discover that the manager expects 60, then 80, then 100 hours. Without the compensation or emotional support which goes along with that incredible commitment on your part.
Yes, I’ve seen this happen. All too often, in fact.
How do you set the boundary? It’s quite personal, in fact. You may decide that 42 hours is too much, while others are fine with investing 70 or 80 hours while working under a specific deadline. You get to decide.
But you can still handle this with your boss in a nice way, being respectful and straightforward. So I wouldn’t suggest blowing up in front of a group of people, unless your desire is to destroy any satisfaction you have left.
With difficult conversations, it’s best to:
- Get your thoughts organized and establish your objectives and limits.
- Have a one-to-one, face-to-face conversation with the other party.
- Make sure you understand what happened with this conversation – commitments made, relationships changed, expectations set.
- Decide your next steps, whether it’s to have another discussion, to escalate or broaden the issue, or to take independent action.
Sometimes I’ll help my clients through this process, to prepare for the conversation, gather their courage, and become clear. It’s well worth the effort, because it’s not hard to entirely destroy a relationship with a single discussion like this.
In the end, becoming skilled at difficult conversations will make you a nicer person. Life isn’t always easy, so this is important. And you’ll learn a lot about yourself on the way.