How To Deal With an Intimidating Work Environment

Effective Communication At Work

Last week we talked about the 4 channels for effective communication at work. Let’s walk through an example situation where you might be able to practice this model to improve your work experience. In this example, imagine you’re working in an intimidating environment. Perhaps your coworkers or bosses are highly assertive, or most ideas and questions are met with a quick, “No.”

Change Your Work Experience with the 4 Channels of Communication

To communicate clearly and effectively, the 4 channels of communication can guide us. These channels include:

  • First, get clear on what’s true (the facts)
  • Next, get clear on your feelings
  • Then, get clear on your judgments and projections
  • Lastly, get clear on what you want

While this model can get you through nearly any difficult conversation, don’t forget the 20/200 rule. It takes 20 times for something new to become comfortable. Moreover, you need to practice 200 times to make it a habit! Today, we’ll share a practice exercise to show how the model works. I hope this helps you to begin using the four channels for more effective communication at work.

Practice Example: Intimidating Workplace

Imagine that you work in an intimidating workplace. For instance, you may feel fearful on a frequent basis. Maybe you believe the people surrounding you force you to play small. You might even avoid speaking to certain individuals. To move toward a solution, let’s walk through the four channels of communication. In this example, we’ll show how you could make progress with a person you believe is a source of intimidation.

  • Step 1: What’s true?

What are the facts? A good way to get clear is to imagine if you recounted the facts to the person you wish to confront, would he or she agree with your version of the truth? For instance, let’s say you told this person, “Last week we had a conversation. In that conversation, I heard you say, ‘I don’t like your idea.'” Would they agree that they said that? Oftentimes our emotions can cloud the things that people say and turn them into other things that we hear. To have effective communication in the workplace, especially in difficult conversations, you must get very clear on the facts.

  • Step 2: What are you feeling?

If you’re in an intimidating environment, you believe that you’re small. You might feel fear, which reflects a belief that something bad is going to happen to you, or you’re going to lose something that’s important to you. Anger may also be present, which reflects a belief that you’re not getting what you want.

You can recognize your feelings as easily as by saying, “Ok, I realize I’m feeling anger and fear.” Essentially, that’s all that needs to happen. For a moment, take note of how the emotions feel in your body. Does your face feel warm, or are your fists clenched? This is a part of emotional intelligence. Check in with what you’re feeling and keep it simple. Effective communication at work – or anywhere, really – starts with healthy acknowledgement for your feelings.

  • Step 3: What are your judgments or stories?

Chances are, you tell yourself stories about the people you work with. If you tune in, you mind find these judgments to be quite juicy. For instance, what names do you call the types of people who do the things you believe others are doing? Who else in your life has shown up that way? Do your current colleagues remind you of anyone else who intimidated you in the past? Is there a possibility that there are times when you do the things that currently make you feel fear or anger? When have you intimidated people?

It’s important to look at that these questions, because it shifts your perspective about what’s really going on. To say, “My workplace is intimidating” is a judgment. What’s really important is to unravel the stories that drive the feelings, or the feelings that drive the stories (it can go either way). It’s vulnerable to own that you might not be right about your judgments. They are a projection of beliefs you have inside of you. In fact, you can be exactly the same way sometimes.

In other words, your coworkers don’t “make you feel” a particular way. You’re having a reaction.  When you can own that you’re feeling something, and you have control over that, you have the ability to process those feelings. Furthermore, when you get clear about stories you tell about the people around you, and recognize when you might show up that same way, you are empowered. Suddenly, it’s clear that it’s not about them, it’s about the way that you’re engaging with them.

  • Step 4: What do you really want?

In particular, get clear about what you want from the relationship. While you may not get your way on a particular issue, perhaps you could express your wants in such a way that you start to get them more often. Maybe you want to be able to tell someone else when you believe that they’re intimidating you. Perhaps you want speak up more often so you can really contribute to the organization. 

Don’t hesitate to get support

This strategy provides a new perspective on how to deal with difficult people. It’s not a magical pill, but it’s a way to show up confidently and authentically. The process empowers you to communicate in a way that’s more likely to get the result you want. If you’ve been in a pattern where you’re reacting to an intimidating environment, then it may take multiple reiterations of these conversations to impact the behavior. You’ve been reacting a certain way, and now you’re taking a new approach.

You may need to look at the risks to speak up and be honest. In other words, you might need some support to tell someone who’s in a position of authority, “I’d like to have an important conversation with you.” Depending on the intensity of the situation and how intimidating the environment seems, this may not be a shift that happens in a day. It takes time to work through it and access the parts of you that will allow you to show up confidently and authentically.

Think of it this way: if the environment is intimidating, you believe you’re intimidated. That is, it’s intimidating to you. You’re coming from a place where you seem small, yet others around you seem big. You could go somewhere else, but when you change environments, you’re still left with yourself. This process is designed to help you access your power so that what was intimidating is no longer so.

At Engaging Breakthroughs, our breakthrough coaches are here to help you through the process. We’ll help you get clear about the data, your feelings, the stories that may or may not be true, and what you want from your interactions. With this abundance of clarity, you’ll be clear on how to have a conversation with this person. Conversations can now be disarming, because you own your part and acknowledge that you are telling stories that may not be true. In being vulnerable and transparent, you will show up calmly and powerfully.

Effective Communication Skills: A Coaching Offer

Do you feel stuck in your communication with your superiors, colleagues or clients? Do you just wish you were able to have more effective communication at work?

If you work in what you believe is an intimidating environment, or you just feel that something’s missing in your work interactions, come to our Dallas workshop in November. This two-and-a-half hour intensive training will show you how to master soft skills to get more of what you want in life. We’ll show you how!

Can’t make it in November? Click here to book your coaching session now.

Breakthrough Coach

Written by Craig Tennant
Founder, Engaging Breakthroughs
Transformation Architect and Breakthrough Coach

At Engaging Breakthroughs, Craig Tennant delivers
breakthrough success workshops and online life coaching to increase emotional intelligence. He offers proven leadership development for leaders who seek to build effective teams, break through to success in their careers, and discover life beyond the 9 to 5.

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