What to Do When Managing Difficult Conversations

Whether you’re working remotely or on-site, difficult conversations are inevitable in a workplace setting. A good manager turns managing difficult conversations into opportunities for growth and collaboration. Read on to learn more.

Difficult conversations can occur among coworkers, your manager, or the individuals you supervise in various scenarios. They are an unavoidable aspect of working with people. They are essential for resolving work-related issues like underperformance, inappropriate behaviour, asking for a promotion, bullying accusations, developmental criticism, etc. They are uncomfortable and risky.

Many of us are concerned that having difficult conversations may hurt our relationships or impact our work negatively. So, you’ll have to learn how to manage these conversations with coworkers, peers, or your boss.

In this post, we’ll lead you through an easy guide process to teach you how to have these conversations in a way that keeps everyone happy and is productive in the long run.

Identify the purpose

If you can’t focus on your purpose, it is tough to maintain a productive conversation. When you’re under stress, your brain will go in numerous directions, leading you to get disoriented, lose control, and fail to meet your objectives.

Setting goals will assist you in getting back on track if you get off track. It will also enable you to develop a more effective negotiation and compromise strategy.

So, before you begin your conversation, you must know why it is necessary. You must prepare yourself by stating your intentions and goals clearly and succinctly. Also, you must be direct and to the point. Consider the following questions for yourself:

  • What is my goal? What do I seek to achieve?
  • What is the other party’s goal?
  • What would be the optimal result/s?
  • What assumptions and preconceived notions do I have?
  • Are there any common concerns?

Make a list of your responses to these questions and focus on them. That will help you be entirely in control of your presence. It will also assist you in providing context and background for why you are having a conversation, which may assist everyone in getting on the same page.

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Don’t avoid it

Avoiding difficult conversations doesn’t make them go away. According to one survey, more than 80% of workers are afraid of having at least one uncomfortable discussion at work, and they know they need to have it but are dreading it.

If you don’t handle difficult conversations, they might grow into blame or rage, or they can emerge in various ways, such as a stress-related disease.

However, if you learn to approach them with the appropriate mindset and build psychological safety, you’ll obtain the results you desire without causing any harm. When you focus on good outcomes and advantages, your thought process and inner conversation will change to a more constructive place.

So, you should approach the conversation with an open mind, a genuine desire to learn, and assume the other person’s intentions are good. It’s critical to remind yourself that you’re not in any danger.

You need to enter these conversations with a take-charge mindset; therefore, using passive voice in these situations might diminish the impact you’re trying to make.

Remember, difficult conversations don’t have to turn into a fight or finish in a conflict. Stop worrying about being liked and start from a place of investigation and respect. Try not to convince yourself, “This will be a disaster.” Instead, remind yourself, “This will lead to a better relationship.”

Be empathetic

When you have a difficult conversation at work, you need to be ready to discuss more than the issue at hand. You must develop empathy and put yourself in the shoes of others to better comprehend and experience what they are going through. Conversations will be more effective and productive when you lead them with empathy.

Before you devote your complete attention to someone, you must first leave your ego at the door and see the problem through the eyes of the other person. You must learn to leave your ideas, feelings, concerns, questions, and wants out of your speech and concentrate on the perspectives of others.

Instead of jumping to conclusions or taking a defensive attitude, take a deep breath and chew over the talk in your thoughts for a few moments. In other words, stop judging what the other person is saying and instead listen to it, paying attention to their words, voice, and gestures.

To stay connected with the other person and demonstrate you are listening, you must tell them what you have learned from what they were attempting to communicate. It’s also crucial to ask questions to comprehend and uncover the hidden.

You should employ questioning techniques used in most call center services for small businesses, which may help you have a better intellectual and emotional comprehension of what is being conveyed.

Offer a solution

Having a successful conversation means discovering the most effective solution, not proving your point or being right. Problem-solving skills allow you to demonstrate various other competencies, such as reasoning, creativity, imagination, etc.

Also, acting as a team player and contributing to the solution when the other person is experiencing difficulty demonstrates leadership and helps you create a stronger, more supportive team. So, you must create a strategy or roadmap for achieving a solution that benefits both of you.

Before you begin managing difficult conversations, you must carefully assess the situation to understand more about the issue and develop appropriate solutions.

Determine the cause of each issue, review corporate rules and procedures, and pinpoint the process where the issue is occurring. Also, try to predict the behaviour and responses of those affected by the situation.

It’s preferable to discuss with all team members involved to get additional information, options, business ideas, and recommendations from everyone affected by the situation. Consult with others who may have more experience with the type of difficulty you’re facing to create a powerful solution.

When having the conversation, focus on the solution rather than the problem to demonstrate your support and make the conversation solution centred.

For example, instead of saying: We need to rewrite the training documents, say: “Training documents are inconsistent.” Also, ensure the ideas developed are in line with the essential purposes and objectives.

Take the right approach

There are a plethora of scenarios you might face when having difficult conversations. Some people have adverse reactions to unwelcome news and may suffer feelings of irritation, shame, or contempt when managing difficult conversations.

So, you need to know the appropriate way to conduct the conversation to help you feel more at ease and confident in various social situations. To have a good discussion, you must evaluate numerous options. If you can choose where and when you talk, create favourable beginning settings such as time, location, and who is there.

It is critical to select the appropriate time and location. You can use scheduling software to keep track of your timetables. You should carefully choose the venue since it can influence the tone of the conversation. If you have a private office, this is typically the best place. If not, find a discussion room or a nearby coffee shop for a more relaxed atmosphere.

You should list the main points you want to cover throughout the conversation. Consider the best method to begin the talks and prepare your responses in advance.

Also, establish boundaries and techniques to prevent a talk from becoming toxic. You must also determine what steps will be done following the conversation and what success will look like.

Plan and practice your conversation

Improving your communication skills can help you grow faster in your career and achieve your goals more efficiently. It does, however, need practice and planning. Practicing will help you develop flexible strategies to advance the conversation constructively on hand.

You should prepare and practice what you’ll say ahead of time to ensure you make your point without appearing condescending or accusing. You can prepare on your own or in front of your friends who are aware of the situation.

The second option offers a feedback mechanism: friends can tell you whether you’re saying the right things and using the correct terms. Preparing responses to potential inquiries or objections will help you stay cool, calm, and collected in the heat of the moment.

Work on expanding your vocabulary and talking like a leader. For example, speaking in the active voice makes your speech more direct and less ambiguous, indicating you’ve done your homework on the matter and are ready to take charge of the situation.

Consider how you may start the conversation with a foundation of interest and caring. It’s also crucial to practice active listening, which entails paying attention, developing clarifying questions, and mentally replaying the speaker’s message. Consider your counterpart’s probable reactions.

Body language, such as gestures, tone of voice, eye contact, and posture, must also be improved. It’s critical to use appropriate body language to ensure the vocal signals you’re sending are received correctly. You should practice controlling your body language and adopting appropriate postures to indicate your degree of attention, trust, and focus.

Avoid getting emotional

Humans instinctively synchronise their emotions with the emotions of those around them. It’s difficult not to become emotional when you’re in a difficult conversation. You may feel frightened, belittled, disregarded, insulted, or ostracised, but don’t assume this was the speaker’s purpose. You must retain your mental presence during the tensest debates.

Self-control is essential in managing difficult conversations. First, you must confront yourself and clarify your emotions: do you feel helpless, anxious, or concerned? It’s critical to find ways to rein in your feelings rather than deflect and find other distractions.

Take a blank piece of paper and write down all of your feelings and needs as they come to mind, without censoring anything. Set a clear, forceful expectation for what to think about and how to process your emotions if you lose control.

Instead of focusing on their tone or your interpretation of what is said during the conversation, you should concentrate on their words. Also, believe in yourself, be faithful, maintain your objectivity, and you’ll be able to bring your best to the table.

Listen to their perspective

Listening is a critical component of effectively managing difficult conversations. Listening to others’ perspectives allows you to develop, broaden your thinking, and experience the world from different angles. It also assists you in comprehending the other person’s thoughts and feelings.

When you identify with someone’s pain or struggle, they feel supported. So, instead of focusing solely on what you want to say, you should remain interested and learn how to listen to others. You must prepare yourself to listen and commit to being a good listener.

Be patient when another person is sharing another perspective with you. Show openness to hearing a viewpoint other than your own and a desire to investigate those differences. Also, even when discussing unpleasant topics, talks may be mutually beneficial. Respect the other person’s viewpoint, and you may expect them to respect yours.

Begin discussions from the standpoint of a third story that neutrally describes or acknowledges the differences between the parties’ points of view. You can use techniques demonstrating care and concern, including asking open questions, requesting more precise information, and offering the other the choice of not replying.

Also, share your point of view, prior experiences, goals, and feelings. If appropriate, you might invite another party to participate in the conversation.

In Summary

It’s natural to want to avoid difficult conversations, but they’re an unavoidable part of life, and we must learn to live with them. Managing difficult conversations is one of the most crucial skills you must have in your life.

If concerns are overlooked, they are likely to grow and become even more challenging to address, resulting in negative implications for all parties involved and the organisation. However, the more sincere your effort in managing difficult conversations, the more successful you will be.

When you address concerns as they develop, you will be able to stop problems at the beginning, prevent the situation from worsening, and maintain strong working relationships and better teamwork. Follow the strategies listed above, and you will guide these difficult discussions productively from start to finish.


About the Author

Nicholas Rubright is the communications specialist for Writer, an AI writing assistant designed for teams. Nicholas has previously worked to develop content marketing strategies for brands like Webex, Havenly, and Fictiv.

Team 6Q

Team 6Q