How To Have Difficult Conversations - Tips - EmployeeConnect HRIS
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difficult conversation

How To Have Difficult Conversations – Tips

We’ve all been in situations where we try to put those difficult conversations on the back burner. You know you need to have this difficult conversation and do everything you can to avoid it. Perhaps you a worried that if you do engage, you will make the situation even worse. One thing for sure, avoiding the conversation is not the best strategy. Silence tends to amplify the situation and in some cases, suggests it’s ok for them to continue on that course.

This article provides some of the best practice strategies, tips, and suggestions for having those hard & difficult conversations. As you read through these suggestions and tips, you will realise that you have more power than you probably think.

How to Prepare for Difficult Conversations?

Before you gear up to have that much needed difficult conversation, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What is the objective of having this conversation? What is it that you wish to achieve out of this conversation? What according to you would be an ideal outcome of this conversation? While you may think that you have reasonable goals for having this conversation, but what you may fail to notice that the language that you use is excessively condescending or critical. While your intention is to provide support,  you end up hurting the other individual with your language. Work on yourself so that when you have this conversation, it supports your purpose.
  2. What kind of assumptions are you making about the other individual’s intentions? While you may feel intimated, ignored, belittled, or disrespected, you need to be cautious before assuming that this was their intent. An impact need not always equal to intent.
  3. Take a step back and revisit which buttons of yours are being pushed? Do you feel that you are more emotional that what the situation demands? Has your past personal experience been triggered? After taking stock of your emotions and triggers, you may go ahead into the conversation, but remember that your heightened emotional state has more to do with you rather than the other person.
  4. Is your attitude towards the conversation influencing you to perceive it in a particular way? For instance, if you think that the conversation is going to be incredibly difficult, then it probably will be. Similarly, if you go ahead with the conversation with the intent that whatever outcome of this conversation is going to be, it will be for the better.
  5. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Reflect on what they may be thinking and feeling about the situation, their fears, and needs, or what solution they might suggest. Try to think of them more as a partner than an opponent.
  6. Analyse your fears and needs and see if there are any common concerns between you and your opponent.
  7. Ask yourself how do you think you have contributed towards the problem as well as how did the other person contribute to it.


Tips and Suggestions to have Critical Conversations

First and foremost you need to understand that in any conflicting conversation, you need to do the majority of work on yourself. At all times during the conversation, it is imperative that you are in control of yourself, keep a check on your emotions, and have your purpose in mind. The moment you realize that the conversation is going off, you need to breathe and center yourself and return to the conversation. This is where your true power lies. When you choose to stay calm and centered, you are indirectly helping your opponent to center him or her as well. Let’s take a look at some of the key suggestions and tips to have a successful outcome of critical conversations.

Tip 1: Develop an Attitude of Curiosity and Discovery

Begin the conversation on a note of curiosity and pretend that you do not know anything. Instead, try to gather as much information as possible from your opponent and their view. Try to understand how certain events may have affected the other individual and closely observe his body language and try to read in between the lines. Allow your opponent to finish putting across his point of view without interrupting him. Your turn to speak will come, so do not rush things.

Tip 2: Acknowledge that you have Understood

When you acknowledge their points, it indicates that you have truly understood what you have heard so far. Gather whatever the other person is trying to explain to you and then explain back to them, what you think they would like to achieve. Acknowledge during the conversation and add your points if required. It will be difficult to acknowledge if you associate it with agreement. In fact, the true essence of acknowledgment is one where you can agree to disagree. For instance, you can say: “I am aware that I am becoming defensive and I think I just did that because I felt your voice getting louder and you sounded angry.” I just wish to discuss, and I am not trying to persuade you to believe differently.” By acknowledging in this manner, you helped yourself and him to center and re-start the conversation on a new note.

Tip 3: Clarify your Stance without Belittling your Opponent

After your opponent is done expressing their view, it’s your turn now. Try to clarify your stance without belittling him. An example would be: “From what you have expressed, I do realize how you arrived at this conclusion of me not being a team player. However, in my opinion, I think I am a team player. Whenever I highlight problems with a project, I am focusing and thinking about the long-term success of the project. I may sound like a critic when I am highlighting the problems, but that is not my intention. Maybe we can discuss how to address such issues so that my intention is clear.”

Tip 4: Brainstorm and Solve Your Problems

Try and look for solutions together. You can do so by brainstorming together and ask your opponent what he thinks may work the best in these circumstances. Based on his suggestion, find something that you like about it and build a solution around it. If the conversation is going in a negative direction, go back to a state of inquiry and ask again for the other person’s point of view. It provides a sense of safety in your opponent and encourages him or her to stay engaged in the discussion. When you both successfully center yourselves, adjust your attitudes, and have an engaging conversation with a purpose, you will be able to come up with sustainable solutions.

Some Additional Tips

Conversations, like any skill,  improves with continued practice. Here are some additional tips for you:

  • A successful outcome depends on how what you say.
  • Acknowledge the emotional energy of both you and your opponent’s and re-direct it towards a useful purpose.
  • Avoid taking verbal attacks personally and help your opponent to center him or her.
  • Avoid assuming that your opponent can view things from your perspective.
  • Practice having this conversation first with a close friend or confidant before having it with your opponent.
  • Mentally review and practice the conversation. Look for various possibilities and visualize yourself handling them with ease and conviction.
  • Visualise the outcome that you are expecting.


Byron Conway

Content Coordinator at EmployeeConnect