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The Right Environment for Effective Listening

The Right Environment for Effective Listening

The right environment for any one-to-one conversation can be the key to its success, whether the conversation is to deliver thanks and praise to someone for a great job or to challenge an aspect of their performance, behaviour or attendance.  For a difficult conversation, it’s essential that you think about the environment for the meeting and how it might progress.  Not all situations can be anticipated but taking some time to consider the staff member’s potential response can make things easier on both of you.

Consider whether it’s possible or likely that the staff member will be upset or angry about what you’re going to talk to them about.  If so, try to find a meeting room as far away from your immediate workspace as possible.  That’ll give the staff member time to settle themselves, if they have become upset, before they have to go back into their usual work environment.  Most work environments are rife with gossip and someone leaving a meeting room, in the middle of their immediate workspace, either in tears or looking very angry will set the rumour mill running very quickly.  And that’s not fair on them.  Other staff might also overhear parts of the conversation if voices are raised and that’s not good for anyone either.

Glass fronted offices and meeting rooms might look good aesthetically but they’re not great if someone’s feeling upset or angry.  If it’s difficult to access appropriate spaces to hold private conversations in your organisation, think about what’s available off site locally as well.  There are more and more office space rental companies out there so that might be a useful option.  It can help to disconnect you from your day-to-day work as well if your meeting is off site.

It’s important not to be distracted by other people in the workplace as the difficult conversation takes place.  People looking into the room to see if it’s available can be hugely distracting for you and the other person, particularly if they then try to have a conversation with one of you through the glass!  “Are you getting told off?!”.  Try to position yourself in the room so you’re not aware of other people if they do look in and to respect the privacy of the individual as much as possible. 

If you’re using a colleague’s office for the meeting, make sure they understand the context of the conversation and that it mustn’t be interrupted.  Them bobbing back in for a file will crash into any safe environment you’ve created and could well stomp all over any rapport you’ve managed to build.  If that colleague is un-organised and likely to forget something, it might be better to use another room!

You can find out more about how to create the right environment for effective listening in chapter 4 of Karen Warren’s online training programme Managing Difficult Conversations to Achieve Successful Outcomes.