How to Have a Difficult Conversation

How to Have a Difficult Conversation

Do you or the employees in your organisation struggle to deal effectively with difficult subjects, often not communicating what you truly think? Clearly there is a cost from organisations, teams and individuals not sharing facts, ideas, feelings, and opinions honestly. The ability to handle difficult discussions is crucial to individual effectiveness and an essential component for organisational success.

Typically, when we are involved in conversations where emotions are running high, and opinions differ, it can be incredibly difficult to keep our composure. We often struggle to share our thoughts for fear that speaking up will make the situation worse, or we lose our temper because the anger has built up inside us over a long period of time and our words come out in an uncontrolled way.

When Outstand works with managers and team members we often hear comments such as;

“When I’m talking about uncomfortable or stressful topics, I hold back rather than give my honest opinion”

“I think it’s better not to give harsh feedback because I know it’s bound to cause problems”.

“When I have no option but to give feedback, I’ll give them compliments to soften the blow”

“I’ll often put off returning emails or phone calls because I don’t want to deal with the person who sent them”

To really understand why we find it so difficult, it’s important to understand our style when under stress and find ways to manage it.

Withholding strong opinions and feelings we have about someone is potentially damaging. Remaining silent is really not a solution. From our experience of dealing with conflict in the workplace, if a problem exists, then it exists whether we acknowledge it or not. Unfortunately, it will often emerge when we least expect it.

Whether you are a senior manager or a front-line member of staff, you help shape the culture of your organisation by either modelling courage or avoiding difficult conversations.

By not sharing our opinion, it demonstrates a lack of respect for the other person’s ability to take disappointments, shoulder some responsibility, or handle their own problems.

Fortunately, there are techniques to help us approach highly emotional and controversial topics safely and freely, without either yourself or the other party resorting to silence or aggressive tactics.

Preparing for the conversation:
> Before you have the conversation, plan carefully.
> Think about what you don’t want and what you do want to achieve from the conversation. Be specific
> Gather all the data, facts, and information you need for an objective view of the issue
> Consider the recipient’s point of view. Understand who the person is, and how they want to grow
> Anticipate the person’s response to the conversation
> Reflect on how you may have contributed to the problem
> Don’t use the conversation simply to criticise
> Focus on issues that can be changed in the future
> If a behaviour or action was a one-off event, you might decide to let it go

During the conversation:
> Be aware of the emotions at play – hurt, anger, silence, fear etc. (both your own and the other person’s)
> Stay focused on what you really want to achieve out of the conversation and keep the conversation moving
> State your opinion while making it safe for others to do the same
> Try to stop yourself shutting down opinions which are different to your own
> Ask for and understand the other person’s story
> Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback
> Under no circumstances should you force, control, cut others off, talk too confidently, threaten or dominate the other person
> Tell the facts… not the story
> Be direct, but sensitive to the other person’s style
> Address the behaviours, not the person
> If you are giving feedback, describe the impact of their behaviour on your work

Are you ready to challenge yourself and identify the conversations where you are staying silent? It is incredibly empowering to change the nature of your relationships by having the courage to talk respectfully, openly and skilfully.

To learn how Outstand can support your organisation and teams to create a culture of transparency and honesty, contact us today.