5 Tips on Having Difficult Conversations

Apr 8, 2014

Whether it’s because you disagree with someone’s approach, disapprove of their behaviour or are unhappy with their performance, difficult conversations are a part of work life. While they’re not easy, hard conversations often lead to the most growth. They also build relationships on trust and honesty when done correctly.

However, many people choose to avoid tough conversations because they fear the conflict and worry about the possible negative outcomes of discussing sensitive topics. Rather than have an awkward meeting, people choose instead to stew silently, complain to others or continue to wait for a “perfect time” which never arrives.

Meanwhile, most often the other person would prefer to know if they are doing something wrong so they have a chance to fix it and improve, even if it does mean a few uncomfortable moments.

So instead of trying to avoid these hard conversations, step up the plate and do what’s necessary for positive change.

Here are 5 steps to having difficult conversations at work:

1. Don’t beat around the bush: Be upfront that you need to have a tough talk. Get to the point quickly so the person is not thrown off-guard.

2. Stick to the issue: Focus on one issue at a time. It can be difficult for people to process too much at one time, especially if it’s criticism.

3. Be fair: Make it a conversation and let the person know you are there to listen to their side as well and work with them.

4. Be open: Sometimes a hard conversation can highlight the fact that you are in the wrong, not the other person. Be prepared to admit it. This builds trust.

5. Provide clarity: Don’t just tell the person what they are doing incorrectly, but also provide examples of what you’d like to see happening instead. Give suggestions for improvement going forward and offer your help. Be clear on next steps and what is expected.

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