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Navigating hurtful conversations in the workplace

Written on Jun 23, 2022

By Jessica Salerno-Shumaker, OSCPA senior content manager 

Having vulnerable conversations about hurt feelings in the workplace is rarely something a professional wants to do, but one professor said it can be beneficial for all those involved. 

“It can be tricky to navigate hurt feelings and hurtful conversations for different reasons,” said Dr. Anita Vangelisti, PhD, professor at University of Texas at Austin. “When it’s in the workplace, there are aspects that make it difficult to navigate those conversations, and there are some of aspects that could make it easier.” 

Vangelisti will be present “Sticks and Stones: Why Words Hurt & What to Do About It” at the upcoming Women, Wealth and Wellness Conference on July 21. She will cover how hurtful conversations can impact your personal and professional life and ways to develop strategies for overcoming the effects. 

Vangelisti said most people in professional settings are concerned with maintaining a particular reputation and aren’t interested in being vulnerable with coworkers. They might be worried a conversation so open could impact the professional relationship for the worse, and instead opt to simply move past any hurt feelings. 

The downside to not addressing these hurtful conversations is it can hamper productivity and distract from the real work, Vangelisti said. It can cause professionals to ruminate over these interactions and even spend time trying to avoid the other person. 

Vangelisti described having these conversations as a “challenging opportunity.” She said to remember that despite your best efforts, sometimes the conversation will fall flat. When that happens, remind the other person involved that you have joint goals as a company you want to achieve, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to get along to make those happen. 

“It's okay to not be ready to have that conversation,” she said. “Those are big conversations. Someone might not be ready, and they need to understand techniques of how to address those conversations. It’s better to know that and wait than to jump in and create more hurt for yourself and perhaps for the other person.” 

Another reason not to have the conversation could be the other person might not be ready, Vangelisti said. If you do decide to talk, she said to consider what your goals are beforehand, so you’re prepared.   

“This is sometimes hardest for people to wrap their brains around,” she said. “If your goal is just to express yourself, that's one thing. If your goal is to have a productive workplace, and you think having this conversation will help with that, that's another type of conversation.” 

Register for the Women, Wealth and Wellness Conference today and hear more from Anita Vangelisti and other dynamic speakers!