Difficult conversations are inevitable.
Whether it’s addressing performance issues, delivering constructive feedback, or resolving conflicts, they will come up more than once in your career.
These conversations can be uncomfortable and challenging, however, let’s not forget that they always present an opportunity for growth and improved relationships.
The point is: you can’t avoid them or hide from them, what you can do is learn how to get the best out of them.
→ Prepare Yourself:
Before starting a difficult conversation, take time to prepare yourself emotionally and mentally.
Set out your objectives and what you would like the outcome to be.
Take time to reflect on your own emotions, biases, and assumptions, are you approaching this conversation with an open mind?
Consider gathering any relevant facts or examples to support your points.
By being well-prepared, you can increase your confidence, lead with logic instead of emotions and create a safe environment for a productive dialogue.
→ Choose the Right Time and Place:
Timing and environment play crucial roles in the success of a difficult conversation.
Select a suitable time when everyone involved can focus without interruptions or time constraints, allow for enough time to allow the conversation to flow and finish with a resolution that everyone is happy with.
Find a private and neutral space that ensures confidentiality and allows everyone to feel safe and comfortable.
When you create a comfortable environment, you automatically make everyone feel safe, encouraging openness, vulnerability and honest communication.
→ Use Active Listening:
Effective communication involves active listening.
Give your full attention to the other person, and don’t allow your phone, emails or anything else to distract you, this conversation is important, and everyone deserves to be listened to, understood and respected.
Don’t interrupt, listen, and allow everyone to express their thoughts from start to finish.
Show empathy and seek to understand their perspective, even if you disagree.
By actively listening, you create a safe space for open dialogue and build trust.
→ Be Clear and Specific:
Clarity is paramount.
Clearly articulate your concerns, feedback, or expectations in a respectful and direct manner.
Avoid generalisations and assumptions, and instead, focus on specific facts.
Put yourself into the equation, and use “I” statements to express your feelings and observations.
By being specific, you provide a foundation for understanding and encourage a problem-solving approach.
→ Practice Emotional Intelligence:
What you see at work is only a small percentage of what goes on in someone’s life.
Your emotional intelligence is vital when navigating difficult conversations, as it allows you to empathise and understand others’ positions and struggles.
Be aware of your own emotions and triggers and manage them effectively.
Stay calm, and avoid becoming defensive or aggressive, this is not about you, this is about finding the best outcome for everyone.
Recognise and acknowledge the emotions of the other person, confirming their feelings.
By applying emotional intelligence, you create a positive atmosphere and promote constructive dialogue that builds trust.
→ Seek Common Ground and Collaborative Solutions:
Why are you having this conversation?
What do you want to achieve?
Even in challenging conversations, it’s crucial to find common ground and foster collaboration.
Remember your shared goals and highlight areas where you agree.
Emphasise the importance of working together to find solutions that help everyone involved. Explore alternative perspectives and brainstorm potential approaches that work for everyone.
By shifting the focus from blame to problem-solving, you can pave the way for a resolution and build stronger relationships.
→ Follow-Up and Provide Support:
Having the conversation is just the starting point, not the end.
After having a difficult conversation, allow everyone involved (yourself included) to take some time to process what has been discussed. Then follow up on any agreements or action plans that were discussed, as well as checking in to ensure everyone feels comfortable and safe.
Ensure that both parties are clear on the next steps and timelines. Offer support and resources if necessary.
When you regularly check in and provide constructive feedback as progress is made, you reinforce a culture of trust and continuous growth.
Difficult conversations at work can be intimidating, no one likes to deliver them, and no one likes to receive them.
You can’t choose to avoid having them.
However, you can choose how to have them.
With the right mindset and approach, you can lead to positive outcomes and strengthened relationships.
Remember, difficult conversations are opportunities for growth, understanding, and building a more productive work environment.
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A marketer at heart, Alessandra has built her experience and skills across different industries and countries.
From launching Brands on global markets to analysing consumer behaviour to create the most effective marketing campaigns for TD SYNNEX (a global tech business working with household names such as Google, Apple and Cisco); her approach is led by data and characterised by a true passion for marketing and innovation.
Her creative approach means she will find the best solution to tell a Brand’s story and clearly communicate its values through engaging content and comprehensive strategies.