Difficult conversations and how to deal with them 

Having difficult conversationsWe all dread the difficult conversations – sales figures not going well, an annual review that isn’t great, breaking bad news of any kind to a team member.

So here are our top tips on how to ensure that it goes as well as it can, and that both parties feel positive afterwards:

The key is in planning and preparation

  1. Consider what you plan to say and ensure you have objective and specific feedback or information
  2. Consider the outcome that you want and make it specific and achievable
  3. Think carefully about how the other person may feel about the conversation.  If they are likely to feel uncomfortable about it what can you say to frame the conversation to minimise these feelings?

The start

  1. Start with a safely statement if this is appropriate.  Put yourself in the shoes of the other person – what might they think this conversation is about?  Some people can mistakenly think that your feedback on one issue is actually much more than that and it calls into question lots of things they do.  If you feel this Start a difficult conversation with a safely statementmight be the case construct a statement that explains what this conversation is not about before stating what it is about.  For example “I have been really pleased with your work ethic and focus (possible concerns in the other person’s mind) and just want to talk about one aspect of how you write the monthly reports that I think can really make a positive difference.”
  2. Give objectives and specific feedback – take the emotion out and focus on the facts
  3. Give a clear message – resist the urge to wrap the message up in so much cotton wool that the other person doesn’t really hear the message that you want to give them
  4. If possible, ask questions after making a point or giving feedback to encourage the other person to contribute.  This is especially important in coming to an action plan – ideally this would be co-created with them.

Other factors

  1. Be aware of assumptions – these are dangerous.  Try to ensure that you a) listen for facts, and b) report on facts
  2. Avoid using subjective, judgemental or emotive language.

We ran a survey recently, and having difficult conversations was one area that participants didn’t feel confident about handling well, so we hope this helps.  Do you have any experiences to share?


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