Recently, I was talking to a client—a business owner—about how to improve his company’s culture. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “I don’t want any of my employees to have a ‘tough conversation.’ I don’t want anybody to sue me. I don’t want anybody to come to blows. I’m in business to make money. Having tough conversations and talking about differences is irrelevant to that, and in our current climate, it might just be dangerous.”
Maybe you’re nodding your head in agreement. If so, I completely understand. Lots of people we work with start out feeling this way.
Here’s another one. A few weeks ago, we met with a gentleman who is an at-will employee in his organization. He was having some issues with his leaders, and he was searching for a way to improve the situation. However, he was reluctant to speak up, fearing that if he did, he might get fired.
Both of these gentlemen were experiencing (very understandable) fear. Both of them were in pain. And both of them were trying to protect themselves by staying quiet—and, in the case of the first man, forcing his employees to do the same. They are far from unique in this. Time and again, we meet clients and prospective clients who are reluctant to speak up because they don’t have the tools they need to do so in a safe, authentic, and courageous way.
Here’s the thing, though: by staying quiet, or forcing your employees to stay quiet, you ensure nothing gets better. You stifle teamwork and decrease morale. That’s why you must speak up, and why you must foster a culture where your employees can speak up, too. Luckily, there’s a very powerful tool to help you do just that in a safe and professional way: the RIR Protocol™.
What you will learn:
Come From a Place of Caring
The RIR Protocol™ is a way to compassionately engage with others, whether they are familiar with the protocol or not. Rather than trying to label someone as wrong, shame them, or prove your point, RIR allows you to gain understanding and then come to a resolution together.
What makes the protocol so powerful—whether in a business setting or in your personal life—is that it comes from a place of empathy, of caring. Even if you disagree with someone, it gives you a way to understand what they’re experiencing and why they think or feel the way they do.
By entering dialogue from an empathetic stance, you shift the power dynamic and energy around the conversation. A contentious topic may suddenly not be as contentious when approached from this angle.
Conversations may still be hard, but with the protocol, they’re also purposeful. People aren’t simply venting at one another. The motivation moves from adversarial toward cooperative.
Check In With Yourself
Implementing the RIR Protocol™ involves three steps. The first is to recognize. Pause for a moment and compassionately check in on what you’re experiencing and feeling.
Most of us haven’t been taught to think about what we’re feeling, let alone honor it. But before we can get to a place of empathy, we have to get in touch with our inner landscape. We must be authentic with ourselves before we can be authentic with others.
The goal during this step is to stop reacting and start responding. Your feelings dictate the decisions you make, and you must recognize them before you can master them. However, keep in mind that recognizing doesn’t mean stuffing your feelings down, minimizing them, or squashing them. Remember, authenticity is crucial.
So, if you feel what you perceive to be a negative emotion—anger, for example—ride your emotional wave. If you don’t, your reaction will be more volatile, and probably not productive. Acknowledging the feelings you’re having, on the other hand, will enable you to get a handle on your reaction before it spills out, while still honoring your own experience and truth.
Invite Further Exploration
Once you’ve recognized how you’re feeling, you can move on to the next phase: interrupt. Remember our businessman, who didn’t want any of his employees to blow up and sue him or get into a fight with each other? By mastering this step, and teaching his employees to do the same, he can begin creating a culture where people respond instead of reacting.
Interrupting can be as simple as asking a question that invites further exploration. This has two benefits. First, while the other person answers, you can catch your breath and get grounded. Second, it’s a way to engage with the other person in an open, honest way.
To see how, let’s consider the at-will employee I mentioned earlier. Let’s say that his boss says something belittling to him. He takes a moment to recognize that he feels angry and hurt. Then, he can approach his boss and say, “Hey, I just want to understand what you meant by what you just said, because I had some feelings about it. Can we talk about it?”
It’s very rare for someone to say no when you approach them like this. Usually, people are surprised. They may be hesitant, but that’s just another opportunity to connect. If you see them stiffen, you can simply say, “I don’t want to argue with you. I just really want to understand.”
By approaching the interrupt phase in this way, you disarm the other person while simultaneously engaging them. Connecting with them in this way shows them you actually care; it demonstrates that you want to know what they’re thinking and understand their experience.
Heal and Move Forward
Once you’ve moved through the conversation that your interruption brought about, it’s crucial that you take steps to heal and move forward. Otherwise, the experience will ultimately separate you and the other person (or people) involved.
This is especially important in a workplace setting. You will see your co-worker or your boss again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Harmony is important, and so is coming together as a team. Plus, as I told the businessman who didn’t want his employees to have tough conversations, a company will make more money if its employees aren’t distracted by the fact that they’re angry at or alienated from someone else.
After all, those emotions are still there, even if they aren’t talking about them. It takes mental and emotional effort to shove them down—effort that would be far more useful if it was directed at supporting the success of the team and the company itself.
So, what’s the key to moving forward? Repair. The repair phase is about what happens whenever you next engage with the person or issue. One of the most common and effective ways to repair after a difficult conversation is to simply talk to the other person again. Doing so signals you aren’t harboring a grudge against them.
Of course, the repair depends on the situation. What’s important is that you intentionally and consciously implement this crucial step.
Create a Culture of Openness
Humans are social creatures. We’re meant to be in tribe together, but to build a thriving community—in the workplace and in our personal lives—takes courage and authenticity. Ultimately, whether you’re shying away from having an authentic conversation, or worried about your employees doing so, the RIR Protocol™ offers a simple, practical, and effective way to navigate tough and/or emotional situations.
If you’re like most of our clients, once you try the protocol, you’ll see how effective it is. And the best part is that the tool builds on itself. After you use the protocol for the first time, you’ll realize you had the courage to speak your truth and the courage to hear someone else’s. That will give you the confidence to speak up the next time you’re in a challenging situation. As you do, you will grow, and the people around you will grow, too.
That’s how you create a culture of openness. Remember, just because you don’t talk about something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And if you don’t talk about it, nothing will get fixed. People may suppress what they’re feeling, but eventually, the dam will burst.
It’s far better for everyone to deal with problems in a compassionate, empathetic way. With the RIR Protocol™, you can do just that. You can build trust, safety, and belonging within your group or organization. You can meet people where they are, foster a culture of empathy and understanding, allow people to set healthy boundaries and expectations, and create a safe climate that encourages both risk-taking and feedback.