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Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

Whether we are a leader, manager or co-worker, there will always be a time in our career where we need to have a challenging conversation. Difficult conversations may be out of our comfort zone, we worry it might cause conflict, we don’t have the time, we worry how the recipient will respond, or we worry it could cause further tension. While these are all viable concerns, the reality is not having the conversation could potentially lead to a far worse situation. Therefore, it is always better to be able to have the difficult conversation to mitigate risk and prevent issues from blowing up later.

Difficult conversations should become part of your workplace culture. They should not be scary or stressful for the recipient or for you delivering the conversation. For this to occur you need to ensure you have the skills and techniques to hold these difficult conversations.

Below are 5 important skills and techniques to guide you through those difficult conversations:

1. Be Prepared

It is vital you are going into the meeting 200% prepared. The better prepared you are, the more confident you will be in having the conversation. It will also be less likely you forget anything during the conversation. This may be in the form of a checklist listing everything you want to discuss, starter sentences or something more detailed like a script of what you want to say. Whatever works for you ensure you go over it and understand it prior to the meeting.

2. Understand your Environment

It is important for difficult conversations to be conducted in the right setting. Ensure you book a room that is quiet and away from other people (avoid gossip!). Will the meeting get heated? Will the recipient get upset? Will the recipient walk out of the meeting? You need to ensure the environment is right to hold such a meeting.

3. Understanding your Emotional Triggers

When we are in strong disagreement or severe conflict with someone, it is almost impossible not to react emotionally. In addition to being prepared, you need to go into the meeting understanding your emotional triggers. What might set you off. What could the recipient say to upset you? It is important to gain an understanding of these so you can respond accordingly and professionally during the meeting.

4. Be Empathetic

While empathy is the ability to see the world through the eyes of another, true empathy is much more. A highly empathetic person senses the emotions of those around them and has the ability to tap into those same emotions within themselves. When you are having a difficult conversation, it is important to try and reflect on what the recipient may be experiencing. Are they anxious about the meeting? Are they worried about losing their job? Do they have personal issues affecting them? Whether the employee is not performing the requirements of the role, has performed suspected misconduct or is simply being rebellious, you still need to enter the meeting with empathy towards them. A difficult conversation is hard for everyone including the recipient.

The above are only a few examples of techniques to help you hold these important conversations. To learn more techniques and how to utilise them in holding difficult conversations, attend Essential HR’s Navigating Difficult Conversation workshop. To learn more or make an enquiry click:


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