Leadership Development

6 Tips for Having Difficult Conversations


We often come across conflicts and difficult conversations in our professional lives. Difficult conversations are those that we practice over and over in our head, trying to figure out in advance what to say and wondering afterwards what we should have said. These are interactions that we put off when we canand stumble through when we must. However, the question is ‘how well do we manage it?’ Conversations become difficult especially when our feelings and emotions are involved.The aim of effectively managing difficult conversation is to understand the situation from the other person’s point of view, explain your own view, share feelings, and work together to navigate a way forward.

Here are some tips on having difficult conversations:

It is very common to delay or altogether avoid, having a challenging conversation at work. With the right preparation, facing tough conversations will be easier as well as result in a better understanding of the people involved.

It's often difficult to have conversations about sensitive subjects and there is never a perfect time to have one. You'll be better off if you stop procrastinating and make the conversation happen. Request a time to meet. Use a non-threatening medium, such as email or voicemail, to ask what time would be best to discuss a sensitive matter. You'll likely still worry before you sit down with the person, but by framing the conversation upfront, you'll have taken some of the charge out of it. – HBR: The Management Tip

Know exactly what you want to accomplish in the conversation and why. Ask yourself what your short term and long term objectives are.. You need to have clarity for yourself so you can articulate the issue in two or three concise statements. If not, you risk digression during the conversation. The lack of focus on the central issue will derail the conversation and sabotage your intentions.

Gather all the information and structure the conversation you plan to have.

Depending on the level of trust in the relationship you may need to have a “pre-conversation” to get more objective perspective on the situation.  The objective of the pre-conversation is to get answers on the questions that you are uncertain about before making your point in the main conversation.

is critical for both parties in a conversation. Do not let emotion overcome your reason or your ultimate objective. If the other person becomes angry, stay calm, defuse the tension, and if needed suggest taking a break.

The late Robert Plutchik, professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, created a Wheel of Emotions to show that emotions follow a path. What starts as an annoyance, for example, can move to anger and, in extreme cases, escalate to rage. We can avoid this by being mindful of preserving the person's dignity—and treating them with respect—even if we totally disagree with them.

may not particularly go as per plan. Since you are the initiator of the conversation, stay focused, and bring the conversation back if you feel it is digressing from the main issue.

Once you feel you have approached the end of the conversation; summarize it for the convenience of both parties. If required ask for a summary and an encapsulation of take away points from the other person.). Always end the conversation by discussing next steps which will show that you are interested in acting upon the points discussed and taking this conversation forward. After a hard conversation, the typical thought that goes through our heads is, "Glad that's over!" After a difficult conversation, it is critical that you follow up and see if the conversation had the intended impact.

Each difficult conversation may be different and might demand a more customized approach. We hope these tips help you approach such situations with increased confidence and help you transform these conversations into positive and constructive ones.

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