Confronting a Monopolizing Coworker
Al Switzler is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.
Dear Crucial Skills,
I work with an individual who does not appear to realize she monopolizes every conversation and meeting she is in by giving excessively long and repetitive explanations and background information when discussing an issue. Several of us have discussed this and simply do not know how to approach her without hurting feelings and potentially destroying good working relationships. We think this is a crucial conversation we need to have with an expert on crucial conversations.
Simply Do Not Know How
I noted your request to have an expert respond to your question. Since Kerry, Ron, and Joseph are unavailable, I hope you will settle for me.
Your question actually has a fairly straightforward answer. But first, let me start by backtracking a bit.
In chapter one of Crucial Confrontations, we teach a concept called “CPR.” CPR stands for content, pattern, and relationship, and helps you define the type of problem you are facing. The first time a problem comes up, talk about the content, or what just happened. The next time the problem occurs, talk pattern—what has happened over time. If the problem continues, talk about the relationship—what effect the problem has on your relationship.
We ask people to focus on what kind of crucial conversation or crucial confrontation they need to have based on the finding that people often talk about the wrong issue. You can talk about the wrong thing until you’re blue in the face and get no resolution. Unfortunately, people often choose easy conversations over hard ones, simple issues over complex problems, or one instance over a pattern of bad habits. As people take the easy way out, they don’t solve the problem because their discussion never addresses the real issue.
So with that introduction, let me suggest that you have a content discussion. Note that your colleague seems to be unaware of the problem and that neither you nor anyone else has previously brought it up. A content discussion is one of the most straightforward conversations you can have. The process we teach in Crucial Confrontations offers step-by-step suggestions.
1. Choose what and if. You have several indicators that you need to hold this discussion. The main indicator is that you have been concerned about the situation for a while but your conversations have been about her instead of with her. As I suggested, have a conversation with her about content and maybe include a small discussion about the pattern.
2. Make it safe. You need to get your head right before you open your mouth. You need to have a private conversation with your colleague. You need to show in your face and in your tone of voice that you are bringing this up to help—that you have not pre-judged her or oversimplified the concern.
3. Describe the gap. Begin by explaining what you observe versus what you expect. For example, “I noticed you came in today at 8:20 a.m.; working hours start at 8:00 a.m. What happened?”
Granted, it is more difficult to discuss more complex behaviors like the ones you’ve described. Your conversation might begin this way: “Could I talk to you a moment? I noticed in our last meeting that only ten minutes were allotted to several of the agenda items. I also noted that we took about twenty minutes on two of the issues. This made the meeting run over by half an hour. From my perspective, you either gave background information we already knew or went into more detail than we needed—pushing us way over time. I’ve seen this pattern in every meeting this month. My goal is to make sure we all spend our time well. I’d like to talk about this with you.”
Now there are many ways to start this conversation; while my suggestion may not be perfect for you, I’m confident that if you follow these steps and begin with a script, good things can happen.
Your colleague might thank you for your honesty and ask for your advice. Or, she might get upset and be forthright about her feelings. If she gets upset, reaffirm your purpose and the fact that you value your relationship and want to continue to work well with her. She might get upset and go to silence. If she goes to silence, restore safety by reassuring her of your intent to strengthen your relationship.
In conclusion, when faced with this kind of crucial confrontation, focus on the issue using CPR, make it safe for your colleague to speak up, and step up to the conversation honestly and respectfully.