Nobody looks forward to a difficult conversation, especially if you know it may result in some form of conflict. Dealing with difficult situations is a part of everyday life, however, I have found that dealing with difficult conversations, has put many people in a state of frenzy or apprehension.

When speaking to different groups of people – including leaders & managers there are several reasons they struggle with having difficult conversations.

Some have said they;

  • Feel like the team member/manager may not like them after the conversation
  • Some don’t know what the right words are
  • Some say ‘HR says I have to be nice’, (This is a common misconception that managers think that a difficult conversation requires you not to be kind.)
  • Some feel guilt
  • Some feel fear because they don’t want to ‘rock the boat’
  • Some lack trust in the whole process and don’t see how it can solve the issue

Going into a difficult conversation;

You should always start and end with empathy. When you lead with empathy, this allows you to go into the conversation with an open mind and for you to take a genuine interest in their point of view. Emotional Intelligence and your level of awareness is key to a making the conversation a lot less uncomfortable. Go in with a win-win mindset!

Get the facts! There is nothing worse than having a conversation – especially a difficult conversation – that is not based on facts. Gather all the facts so you can address these one by one and always be honest and ensure trust is maintained throughout. There’s nothing worse than having this type of conversation with someone you do not trust.

You always need to prepare for a difficult conversation, even if it needs to be had immediately. Are you in the right emotional & mental state? If the answer is no, compose yourself and prepare because the repercussions could be worse than the actual conversation. Preparation allows you to address the points that need to be addressed so you do not digress from the actual topic and can discuss the points in an organised way. (This should also be used in your personal relationships with your partner, family & friends).

Find a private space to have the conversation. A difficult conversation can trigger different emotions in both parties and it is important you are in a private and safe space.

Ask yourself a few important questions before embarking on the difficult conversation;

  • Are you the right person to have this particular conversation? How will the person respond to you? What is the persons perception of you? What is your relationship with that person – Is it good or bad? Do they trust you?
  • What outcome do you want from having this conversation? Does the outcome benefit both parties? What impact does the outcome of the conversation have on your overall relationship with the person?
  • What knock-on effect will having this conversation have? Does this affect the dynamic of team/department/business/relationship?
  • What are the facts? Who else can support you and the other person to make the conversation less uncomfortable?

 What You Should Avoid During a Difficult Conversation.

Its important to note that difficult doesn’t equate to unhealthy or toxic. (That’s a separate conversation 😉)

If you are leading the conversation, avoid being authoritarian & defensive. Understand that, the other person will already have their defences up and you want to avoid them feeling like a ‘naughty child’ and therefore responding like one.

Avoid having a patronising and condescending tone – telling the person to ‘toughen up’ or ‘that’s the way it is’ – especially if they are in the wrong. The objective should be to ensure feedback has been received and results in a positive outcome.

Avoid having a monologue. When you lead with empathy, this should set the tone for a dialogue – allowing for both sides to share their point of view openly. There may be a time during the conversation where you may have to say more, however, you should always check how they feel and what they think about what you have said.

Avoid being pushy and forceful when needing answers. This will only cement the defensive wall and may result in the person shutting down, becoming aggressive or walking out of the conversation. Allow them to process the information and give them time to respond.

After the conversation, it is important to follow up if the outcome allows for it. When you follow up, you open a space for conflict free interactions. It shows you care and that your intentions for change were coming from a good place. Difficult conversations don’t always have a negative outcome and can lead to fruitful relationships.