Whether it’s discussing a workplace mistake, exploring a touchy subject, or communicating with a highly sensitive team member, we all have difficult conversations at work. Instead of putting them off and letting things get worse, which is often a go-to for those who wish to avoid conflict, we encourage approaching them using the FRIC method. This conversational framework is captured with the acronym FRIC: Fear/feeling, Request, Inquiry/invitation, and Commitment.
We’ll start with the “Fear/feeling.” Especially in difficult conversations, emotions are present, and it is useful to identify and express those feelings explicitly. There are two key benefits to this. First, “name it to tame it” is an expression we use that captures the phenomenon whereby labeling and identifying an emotion decreases its intensity. Decreasing emotional intensity in a conversation can increase its effectiveness by helping you stay focused more on what is being said and less about the story in your head. The second benefit to explicitly identifying your fear or feeling is that if you’re feeling it, they’re going to detect it. Openness is not simply the words that you are saying, but also how you are saying them.
Tone and body language are a significant proportion of our communication as humans, and we are freakishly good at picking up on tone and body language cues that are incongruent with what somebody is saying. Even infants as young as 8 months old detect and respond when body language is incongruent. The problem, however, is that others will make up their own story about what your tone or body language means, and it may not match what’s true for you. This can create disconnection and a decrease in trust. So, whatever you’re actually feeling – share that out loud and explain what is behind that feeling for you with self-accountability.
Next is the “Request.” Sometimes conversations feel difficult because you’re only focused on what you don’t like about what the person is doing, or you find yourself judging the other person for what they’re doing or not doing, and the idea that they are doing something “bad” or “wrong” creates discomfort in you and a reluctance to be open. If, however, you can gain clarity for yourself – what is it that you want this person to do – that is enormously helpful. If you think about it – if you don’t even know what you want from this person, how the heck are they supposed to know?? Requests work best when they are affirmative and specific. So, request what you do want instead of what you don’t want. And be as specific as possible.
As an example of this, one of our clients was facing an interpersonal struggle between two leaders in the organization because one of them, the HR Director, felt that the other (a hiring manager, in this case) was not responding to her emails in a “timely” fashion. His response was that he answered every single email within a 24-hour period. The HR Director was trying to get a job posting out in order to hire for a role and was asking what she felt were fairly small, easy clarifying questions about the role, so each time he took as long as 24 hours to respond, she felt he was literally delaying her by days. So, as you can see, in this case, asking somebody to respond to her emails in a “timely” fashion was not specific enough to create clarity. Be as specific as you can with your request.
The “Inquiry/invitation” recognizes the nature of co-creation. Every situation you are in is co-created, so you are always contributing to what is happening. You are aware of some of that and not aware of some of that. So, the inquiry/invitation is asking the other person to be open with you in this manner. Essentially, the inquiry could always be: “What can I do to make it easier for you to honor my request?”
In the example of the conflict between the leaders about the timeliness of email exchanges, the hiring manager could say, “It would help me if, in your emails, you asked me specifically to respond to you by a certain date and time, and then I’ll know how to meet your expectations.” This is perfectly reasonable and can help them avoid frustrations with each other which helps them stay connected and makes it easier for them to truly offer each other the support that exists in a culture of community.
But the conversation isn’t over until one or both people have made clear “Commitments.” It could be as simple as one person making a commitment based on the request, or if in the inquiry, a counter-request emerged, it could be that each person makes a commitment. The commitment should come with a specific action item and a timeline for when it will be delivered or completed.
FRIC Conversations are useful when dealing with workplace conflicts and also when making requests both large and small. At Gallaher Edge, we introduce this framework early on in our coaching process and practice it with our clients in a variety of interactions. If your difficult conversations at work aren’t going as well as you would like, perhaps you can give FRIC a try!