No matter how strongly you try and avoid workplace conflict, there comes a time for most business owners when difficult conversations become the only option.
We often try to avoid them, fearing that we may make a difficult situation worse, or that we may say the wrong thing, causing an already awkward conversation to escalate out of control. We fear that a difficult conversation may damage our relationships or our work environment.
We don’t want to be labeled as “the troublemaker”, so avoid conflict whenever possible.
But difficult conversations are a necessary part of working with others and for those new to leadership or management, are often a necessary part of the role.
However, difficult conversations are not restricted to team management and performance but can also occur between client and organisation. Take, for example, a conversation informing the client that a project has been delayed or that a mistake has been made.
Of course, many of us have experienced conversations in the past that perhaps haven’t gone to plan and hold on to that negative experience, believing that all challenging conversations must, therefore, follow the same direction.
But difficult conversations don’t have to be combative here are my six tips on how to handle a difficult conversation at work. (And for my free workbook on managing difficult conversations, click here)
Plan the conversation.
Although you don’t want any difficult conversation to appear scripted, it can be really valuable to create notes around what you want to say and how you’re going to frame it before the conversation takes place. This allows you to be flexible around the direction the conversation takes, giving your counterpart time and space to express their thoughts and feelings, whilst ensuring you still get your points across. Ensure any language you use is simple, clear, direct, and also neutral.
Badly managed, a difficult conversation can turn into a combative one. It’s therefore vital that, where possible, you adopt an objective view, acknowledging your counterpart’s perspective and listening to their answers and explanations. When you actively listen to your counterpart, you demonstrate that this is not personal and have a genuine interest in their point of view.
Compassion and empathy are two key skills that should be incorporated into any difficult conversation at work. When speaking to an employee, it may be that person has difficulties at home, has mental health challenges, or other issues that you know nothing of, so give them time and space to be heard without judgment. Ensure the conversation is focused purely on facts and not emotions. if you can separate what you know from what you think you know or feel, then there is less risk of assumption or projection.
Collaborate to find a solution.
It is important to remember that your approach to any difficult conversation should be to find a solution. By keeping this in mind, you can frame the conversation as collaborative, and a chance for feedback, rather than combative. After all, you’re likely to have to continue working with your counterpart after the conversation, so it makes sense that any conversation is viewed as a two-way thing, where both sides can talk from their perspective, can hear the other person, and reach an agreement through brainstorming a solution together.
Managing difficult conversations at work – Conclusion
Whilst difficult conversations are never pleasant, they are an inevitable part of business life. The key to effectiveness lies in ensuring you approach any challenging conversation with the correct mindset, having in focus that you are dealing with another person, another individual, who has their own perspective on things. When you approach any difficult conversation with honesty, integrity, and compassion, then there are real opportunities for positive conclusions.
If you are facing the prospect of a difficult or challenging conversation at work and would welcome some support in navigating the discussion through to a positive conclusion then why not download my free workbook, “Handling the Challenge: Managing Difficult Conversations at Work.”
This workbook provides you with:
· A framework to help you not only take control but adopt the best approach to ensure a constructive conversation, instead of a combative one.
· Tips for structuring the conversation effectively.
· Suggested coaching tools that may support you in ensuring the best possible outcome.
· Suggestions for conversational openings.