Tips to Having Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations can be awkward and unpleasant, but usually inevitable in the workplace.  Defenses are often high when others express the need to talk and the sooner the talk takes place, the better.  Feedback should be something that occurs regularly, so the conversation can at least be expected yearly, which gives opportunity to act quickly.  Below are some tips to make the conversation go as smoothly as possible.

Act Quickly – Many people dread difficult conversations and want to put them off for as long as possible.  But just like the beginning of an infection, waiting can cause the issue to fester and could cause more harm than good.  Your job is to make the people in your organization better and sometimes that means pointing out areas of improvement.  Act fast and make sure you nip improper behaviors in the bud.

Purpose Driven – Make sure your discussion has points and a purpose.  Start the conversation with the main focal point to lessen the probability of the conversation getting away from you.  Be direct and approach politely to ensure you don’t put the person on the defense right away. Always remain confident and precise in the point you are trying to make.

Dialogue – Make sure the conversation involves dialogue and doesn’t become a monologue.  The person directing the meeting should also be ready to listen and understand a different point of view, which may make a difference in the discussion at hand.  Listen to other’s perspectives and acknowledge their feelings.

Empathy – Make sure to realize the person and their feelings are respected.  Putting yourself into their shoes is a way to show empathy and compassion.  Realize that no one likes to receive criticism, but that it can be delivered with grace.  Focus on the facts and discuss the impacts they have on the agency.

Have a Solution – There is nothing worse than critiquing someone and not giving solutions to improve their performance.  Have a list of ideas or options to make the constructive criticism more palpable.  Let them know what they need to work on to get to the point you desire.

Questions – Let the other person digest the information and then be able to ask questions.  Many people need to ask questions to clarify that they understand the situation.  Asking clarifying questions to the person you are speaking with is the best way to ensure understanding.

Be Comfortable – There may be instances where silence is necessary.  Extroverts tend to want to fill the void with words or thinking of what to say next, but introverts may need time to process before they speak or react.  Give the person some time to react and allow for the silence. 

Preserve the Relationship – It takes years to build strong relationships and only minutes to destroy them, so be cautious in how you approach people and how you end the conversation.  The conversation should be caring and informative for both sides.  Always be mindful of how you may come across.

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