Dealing with a Difficult Conversation

Very often the only thing that is more stressful than having a difficult conversation in the workplace is the anticipation of that conversation. Whether it’s a performance appraisal or a sales meeting to close a deal, here are a few tips to help you to manage difficult conversations:

Be prepared

Spend some time considering what you want to achieve by having the conversation. Write down the key points you want to raise and list any further points in order of importance. What would your ideal outcome be for each point? If you would like the other person’s input, or if you have a proposal for a solution of your own, write these down next to each point. Picture yourself confidently raising the issues on your list and explaining your ideas for possible solutions.

Put yourself in their shoes

How would you receive this information? Anticipating their response will help you to consider carefully how you communicate and your body language. This will enable you to be more prepared for their response, including the possibility of an emotional response.

Time and place

Choose a time and place when you will both feel comfortable, will not be pushed for time and should avoid being interrupted. If necessary, reassure the person you’re talking to that the conversation is confidential.

Stay focused on solutions

It is better to ask “how can we do better next time?” than “why did it go wrong?” We cannot change the past but we can explore and identify the best way to learn from mistakes and move forward.

Don’t skirt around the issue

Be polite but stick to the preparation you did in advance of the conversation. Stay in control. If you find your tonality changing, either speeding up and getting louder (getting frustrated) or slowing and getting quieter (losing confidence), adjust your posture. Whether you are sitting or standing, change your physiology to be more relaxed or more assertive and your tone of voice and choice of words will follow suit.

Have a time frame in mind before you start talking

If it becomes clear that the conversation is going to take longer, don’t be tempted to rush things through or run over time. The last thing you both want is to feel exhausted by the conversation and to make a poor decision. Instead, agree to meet again to continue the conversation at a suitable time.