12 tips to handle difficult conversations in the workplace
Conflict is unavoidable in situations where individuals spend extended periods of time together. Consequently, difficult conversations often arise in the workplace. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some tips to help you best handle it:
1. Be clear about the issue or conflict.
If you are unclear on why the discussion needs to happen, you won’t be able to articulate it clearly to the other person. Moreover, they might misinterpret your intentions.
2. Know what your desired end result is.
Think about how the conversation will fix the situation. What do you need the person to agree to? What support will you provide? What do you both need to agree on to help the situation?
3. Check your mindset.
Ensure you approach the conversation with a positive attitude. The more calm and comfortable you are, the better you will handle any conflict. Additionally, check for hidden purposes behind initiating the discussion. Will the conversation fix anything or just make you feel better?
4. Choose an appropriate setting.
Your office might not be the best place to stage a conversation. Instead, consider holding the meeting in a neutral place such as a meeting room, or a friendly location like the local coffee shop. Use your judgement to determine what’s appropriate for the conversation and your company culture.
5. Stick to the facts and evidence.
State only the facts and provide real evidence of the problematic behaviour. Additionally, ensure you objectively outline the impact of their behaviour on their work and the workplace.
6. Be okay to sit in silence.
There will be silent moments in the conversation. Don’t rush to fill the silence with words. The other party may just want to think before they speak, so allow them their moment.
7. Deal appropriately with thwarting tactics.
Thwarting tactics include stonewalling, sarcasm, and accusing. Address the tactic openly and sincerely. And disarm it by labelling the observed behaviour.
8. Preserve the relationship.
Your goal is to make the person aware of the problem and fix it, not destroy your working relationship. Therefore, don’t shame or embarrass them. Don’t go into the conversation with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude either. Moreover, listen to their side of the story, so they feel they are getting a fair “trial”.
9. Have the right tone of voice.
You’re having a discussion, not an inquisition, so ensure that comes across. Moreover, ensure your language is simple, clear, direct, and neutral.
10. Plan what you might say, without scripting it.
Before the conversation, jot down notes and key points of what you want to say. Don’t draft a script though, as the meeting is unlikely to go according to your plan.
11. Give something back.
Offering up options helps the other person see a positive side to the conversation. For example, if you’re laying someone off, write them a recommendation. Or if you need to take someone off a project, give them a fair alternative.
12. Keep it professional.
Remember that your conversation is a business discussion. Be honest but respectful. Avoid inappropriate language and focus on the person’s behaviour or performance. Also, decide if it would be more appropriate to have a third person present.
Having difficult conversations is never easy. However, with skills and practice, work life and its inevitable conflicts can become more productive and comfortable for everyone involved.