Why Difficult Conversations Don't Have to Kill You
You have to meet with your boss to ask for a raise. Maybe you manage people and need to speak to somebody about a performance issue. Perhaps it's a co-worker you're having a problem with and need to chat.
Which of these difficult conversations is the hardest to have? It doesn't really matter because all three can be a lot easier to handle. If people would prepare for these conversations better, they would be far less stressful and they would get better results.
Here are a few ways to make your next difficult workplace conversation a lot easier.
Talk Like a Leader
I spent last week in Saskatchewan speaking to groups in Regina and Saskatoon.
Each presentation focused on general communication skills to increase everyone’s ability to become a better listener, because good listeners are usually good communicators. Then we moved onto ways of asking great questions to control conversations. The second half of each presentation got into difficult conversations in the workplace. These are conversations bosses need to have with employees, ones between co-workers and conversations between employees and their bosses. These are the types of conversations that aren’t easy to have, but essential to move organizations forward.
Preparation is the key to these conversations and if the correct preparation is done, that difficult conversation can become a lot easier.
There’s too much information on how to prepare for a difficult conversation to cover in one blog post, so in this edition and next week’s blog, I will detail eight important points you need to know about to prepare for, and nail your next difficult conversation.
Know What You're Going to Say Before You Say It
It’s a simple principle. If you know what you’re going to say before you say it, chances are you will say it better. When you start a difficult conversation it’s critical for you to communicate your thoughts effectively. You don’t want to fumble and stumble when you tell an employee, or a co-worker about a problem. You want to act and sound confident and that’s difficult to do when every other word is “ahhh” and “ummm.”
Preparation is the key. Think about what you plan to say, the order you’ll say it in, and work especially hard on your opening. If you can remember the first two or three sentences you’ll start with, the rest becomes a lot easier.
So practice with somebody you’re comfortable with. Do some role playing. If you can’t, then use your phone to shoot video of you practicing and see what refinements you can make. Do NOT practice in front of a mirror because as soon as you look at yourself you’ll start focusing on what you look like and get distracted from practicing.
What Do You Want?
As you start your preparation, think about what you want to get out of the discussion. If it’s an employee who keeps coming in late then you likely want that to stop, so you want to change their behaviour. If it’s a worker who’s sales have dropped over the last year, then you want to change performance.
Obviously those are two different situations and require somewhat different conversations, but the important point to understand is when you focus on what you want out of the conversation, it becomes much easier to deal with the awkwardness of the situation.
It acts as a goal for you and you’ll be able to put up with feeling uncomfortable if you get the outcome you want. It also helps to feel better about the conversation when it’s done. It may have been uncomfortable, but you made your point and feel confident something was accomplished.
State Your Case Professionally
Remember you are the one who asked for the meeting and the one who wants to talk about a certain topic. This, to a certain extent, puts you in charge of the conversation and you can lead the other person through it.
Stay on your best behaviour and keep the conversation professional. You can control what you say and how you say it, at least at the beginning, because of your preparation. The other person may not be under the same obligation because you’re the one who wants to talk and you’ve called the meeting. They may be surprised by what you want to talk about and might get offended, so be prepared for different reactions, which we will talk about in next week’s blog.
Now Shut-up and Listen
One of the biggest mistakes that people who initiate these conversations make is they don’t take time, or make the effort to listen to what the other person has to say. Force yourself to state your case and then ask for the other person’s thoughts or opinions. Ask them what they think, or perhaps why something has happened. When you do, turn your mouth off and your ears on.
Look directly at the other person as they speak, nod and use other facial expressions (as long as they’re not negative like rolling your eyes) to make it clear to the other person you’re listening to everything they have to say.
It’s also important to get confirmation that the other person understands what you’re saying. A great line to use is “Is what I’m saying makes sense?” This asks the other person if you’re making sense, instead of asking them if they understand what you’re saying. Asking somebody if “they’re getting it” can come off as confrontational.
Next Week in Part 2
Difficult Conversations will wrap up next week as we look at everything from building hope and confidence, to using bridges to get the conversation back on track, to the proper way to document what was discussed and agreed to.
The key thing to understand is, if you follow these steps, difficult conversations may not become easy, but they will get easier, you’ll be able to control what is said and hopefully get a positive outcome.