Are you putting off a difficult conversation at work? No matter how strong your culture may be, how many friends you have at work, or how predictable your boss is, difficult conversations will make their way to your desk one way or another. It’s natural to want to avoid these conversations— it’s uncomfortable.
Some easy examples are having to fire someone, telling your boss you’re unhappy with their management style, or responding to negative feedback you received in a previous difficult conversation.
These discussions are never fun, but you can walk into the meeting feeling prepared and confident in your stance by following this five-step framework. But before we even dive in, let’s start by reframing our mindset from a “difficult” to a “growth” conversation!
This may seem obvious, but when you foresee or know a difficult conversation is ahead, the first critical step is to prepare, prepare, prepare. If you don’t, you’ll likely end up with a bigger conflict on your hand or a dissatisfactory resolution.
Start by writing down what you want to achieve during the meeting and what your end goal is. Working backyards, think about your issue and your goal and write down what points are most important for you to get across to them. If you end up with an overwhelmingly long list from avoiding a conversation for too long, spend time thinking which ones are most important to help prove your point and achieve your end goal. Avoid the “me” versus “you” and focus your grievances or points on how they are harming the company.
It should be kept in mind that most conversations don’t always go as planned, but preparation allows you to walk in with a clear mind, well thought-out points, and examples to help you make a better case.
Even the calm and collective can become defensive when personal attacks are thrown their way. A difficult conversation is harder for the recipient to blow off or. avoid when they are presented clear examples and/or data as evidence. Framing the conversation around harming and helping the company, rather than people, makes this step easier.
Once you have laid out the problem, allow the other person to express their point of view and opinion. If you are dealing with someone who consistently interrupts you, you should start the meeting by saying something like, “I’ve thought a lot about [topic] today, and have X points I would like to get across. I want to make sure I clearly express myself, as this is an important issue for the organization, so I ask that you wait to respond until I finish.” Once it is their turn to speak, however, you must show them the same respect and become an active listener, ultimately allowing for an open conversation and a positive resolution.
As mentioned before but worthy of its own section, make sure the conversation resolves around the bigger picture— how this issue is affecting the organization, be it culturally, financially, strategically, etc. Of course, you will have to get personal, still. You also need to focus on the “I” instead of the “you.”
Emphasize the issue rather than the person who may have caused it. You can also help the conversation go smoothly by mentioning a time where you went through something similar.
Most conversations end without any action plan because one or both parties aren’t receptive or prepared. If you have followed the framework so far, getting to a possible solution should be on the horizon.
The last and most crucial step of having a difficult conversation is to not walking out feeling better emotionally (thought you should!), but with an action plan.The goal of having a difficult conversation is to see some change, be it in behavior, attitude, or strategy. Make sure that this agenda and front and center of the discussion.
A difficult conversation is going to be difficult no matter what, but some preparation and empath can make it a manageable and potentially rewarding experience. Think about how the difficult conversation is leading to a positive change in behavior or performance and things will start looking better soon!
And lastly, when you are dreading a difficult conversation, remind yourself that with a positive outlook and a growth mindset, your difficulty can become an opportunity.