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Q&A About Talking Side by Side

How to Get Your Point Across Without Poking a Hole in Anyone, must have struck a nerve. Readers emailed me more questions:

Q: What if you prefer to talk face to face because you can understand the other person better and have more confidence about what’s being said?

A: If the other person is equally comfortable, and face-to-face positioning leads to understanding and feeling attended to instead of creating antagonism or fear, then it’s great. I guess I’ll write a post (or a couple of them) about listening and acknowledging what’s being said, because the underlying question is actually about how to build relationship and work together on the subject at hand.

Q: If you have to discuss something difficult in an office environment, where is the best place — your office, their office, or a neutral space?

A: I’d say it depends, but here are some considerations:

  • If you’re the boss, it can show a lot of respect to go visit the other person’s office.
  • If you’re the junior person, you have to do the traveling. Depending on how practiced the senior person is at paying attention, you may need a neutral space to try to minimize the senior’s inclinations toward paper shuffling and screen-checking.
  • If you’re delivering bad news, it can be better to go to the other person’s office and leave when you’re done — if they’re upset it can be very hard for them to leave your office and make it back to their own without showing their feelings on the way.
  • Neutral space can be optimal when multiple viewpoints need to be considered, or when you don’t want to have a particular discussion that you expect to be difficult or negative in your workspace. Try to find a space that has natural light, or plants, or art — something you can focus on for a creativity break.
  • If you’re afraid of being overheard, a break room or lunchroom can be good — a sort of low hum of ongoing activity means you can talk a little more quietly and unobtrusively, unless it would be considered unusual for you to be seen together. The walk-and-talk described below can also work well.

Q: Why didn’t you mention the walk-and-talk that you often take people on?

A: Thanks for reminding me! A walk-and-talk is a great way to clear the air or hash out a tough topic. You can vary your pace with the ebb and flow of thoughts, or kick a pebble a bit when you need something to do while you’re thinking about your response. And a walk-and-talk can be particularly good when you’re dealing with someone who is not used to taking in feedback, or who has many, many opinions. You can be simultaneously neutral and assertive by choosing what the path will be — even as you’re letting the other person talk and talk. Plus, you can always put out your hand — “Wait! I see! Now I need you to consider this other viewpoint…”

Onward and upward,


More from this series:

How to Get Your Point Across without Poking a Hole in Anyone
If Someone’s Poking a Hole in You, Perform Evasive Maneuvers

Related Posts:

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