#GartnerSEC: How Security Leaders Can Navigate Difficult Discussions in the Enterprise
Speaking at the Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit 2019 in London Tina Nunno, distinguished VP analyst, Gartner, explored the difficulties security and risk managers can face in dealing with ‘political’ discussions in the workplace, and outlined strategies for navigating difficult conversations across a business.
Within an organization, politics and difficult conversations are “where the rubber hits the road,” Nunno said. “It’s in the face-to-face interactions where we are having some type of a conflict or we need to communicate something that’s quite difficult, and we need to survive it.”
Nunno explained that the desired outcome of any political or difficult conversation is to resolve issues constructively, establish a positive outcome for all involved and optimize the long-term relationship between the players.
To do that, Nunno outlined three paths that can be taken to navigate challenging workplace conversations, all of which build upon one another. These are de-escalation, synchronization and neutralization.
De-escalation requires you to strive to control the pace and tone of the discussion. “Creating calm and appeasement are two different things; with the first both win, and with the second both lose.”
She advised a four-step approach for mastering de-escalation in a difficult discussion, which includes Avoid, Ask, Engage and Calm.
- Avoid: do not use language triggers to prevent escalations, including “you’re wrong,” judgement terms, past tense and use “we” instead of “I” in conversations
- Ask: uncover agendas, both hidden and stated. “Questions are a really powerful tool” and most people are loathed to not answer a direct question
- Engage: decide where the discussion will take place
- Calm: manage yourself and the other person’s state of mind so you are open to one another’s point of view
The next path that can then be taken to navigate challenging conversations is synchronization, Nunno said, again using four steps: Empathize, Agree, Redirect and Align. “In synchronization, we are attempting to agree and come to a positive place.”
- Empathize: acknowledging the feelings of the other person will accelerate the shift to thinking
- Agree: find common ground
- Redirect: put the other person in a more constructive direction
- Align: success is when both parties feel good about cooperating
The third and final step that Nunno outlined is neutralization. “This is when you can use something other than reason – power – to stop the situation and move to a better place,” she said. Once more, Nunno put forward four steps to adhere to: Message, Obstruct, Agitate and Restore.
- Message: decide which message you want to send and to whom
- Obstruct: this requires power and a willingness to use it
- Agitate: determine the criticality of the message and the number of people that need to hear it
- Restore: “restoration is not simply explaining why you were right and they were wrong, restoration is accountability, dignity and moving forward together”
To conclude, Nunno shared three key pieces of advice for being an effective verbal diplomat that can resolve conflicts through conversations:
- Select and practice a short set of discussion techniques and have them ready to deploy
- Combine discussion techniques in a formulaic way that makes sense to you
- Manage political discussions to optimize both your relationships and outcomes