There are always moments at work where we need to talk about a difficult subject. Whether it’s telling a client that you cannot meet a deadline, or confronting a colleague about poor work performance or misconduct, confronting delicate topics is stressful. However, increasing awareness of how to approach tough conversations means that we can learn how to manage situations with respect and honesty.
Here are some of the most important lessons to bear in mind in those tricky situations.
Top tips for having hard conversations at work
- Redefine what makes a conversation ‘difficult’
When an issue arises with a client or colleague and we decide that discussing it is going to be ‘difficult’, we’ve made a pre-judgment about a conversation that actually hasn’t happened yet. In many situations, stress and pressure can be significantly reduced by redefining these conversations to make them feel more constructive and positive.
Telling someone they are underperforming can feel daunting and uncomfortable, but what about a meeting aimed at accelerating their progress and development? It’s nerve-wracking to admit to your manager that you can’t complete a task, so could you present an alternative solution or opportunity?
- Planning and following up
It’s essential to go into a potentially sensitive conversation with a clear idea of what you want to say, and how you can most effectively say it. This way, you can identify any sensitive topics which require more care, and be more concise and specific. However don’t script too heavily, it shouldn’t feel forced.
Afterwards, it’s important not to simply brush things under the carpet. Increase the discussion’s value and ensure sustainable solutions are implemented by checking back in with the person. Are the plans you came up with together being implemented? Are they satisfied with the outcomes of your talk?
- Be an active, considerate listener
Productive conversations require successful two-way communication. We want the other party to be interested in hearing our input as well as giving their own. Even if you believe you already understand a situation, the other person needs to see you giving their perspective serious consideration. If someone has already decided their stance, the conversation doesn’t feel constructive and we don’t feel heard.
Problem solving is best done collaboratively, so it’s useful to see hard discussions as opportunities to find solutions together. Rather than playing the victim by using a self-pitying or accusatory tone, acknowledge everyone’s feelings but don’t dwell. Instead, steer attention towards finding an actionable solution informed by both parties’ ideas.
- Honesty is the best policy
Often, the problems we face at work could have been minimised or avoided through greater transparency. If you feel a deadline set by a client or manager is unrealistic, it’s better to be honest about your concerns from the outset because avoiding that conversation could result in a last minute panic.
Being honest with each other is vital to building relationships based on trust and mutual respect, and this requires constant ongoing work. If we consistently encourage everyone to come forward with problems and ask questions, we set ourselves up for easier, more constructive conversations when issues do arise.
- Slow down and be mindful
In tense and sensitive situations, how we speak is just as important as what we say. There’s no rush, so slow down, take a deep breath and a moment to think before you start speaking. Don’t beat around the bush, exaggerate, or go off on tangents. Know what you want to say, and present it calmly and non-confrontationally.
When listening to someone else, don’t interrupt. Pay attention, let them finish, and if you have a strong reaction, be aware of your body language and tone. If you start to feel tense or heated, make a conscious effort to relax yourself. Pause the conversation if necessary. When you are clear-headed and objective you communicate more meaningfully.
While tough conversations can be daunting, with the right approach and attitude, we can turn them into important growth opportunities and build stronger working relationships.If you’re interested in finding out what our services could bring to your organisation, our friendly team would be happy to discuss your exact requirements and any questions you may have. Don’t hesitate to contact us today by calling Tony Gregg on 020 7358 8133.