Are you able to have difficult conversations at work? The vast majority of us would rather avoid confrontation, and we often put off a conversation on a sensitive matter that we know we need to have. We do this because we think of this type of conversation in harsh terms: a confrontation with another person. But what if instead of confronting a person, you thought of it as confronting a problem together? For this to happen you simply need to change your perspective, by no longer seeing the conversation as a duality with a winner and a loser. This new approach will allow you to work shoulder to shoulder with others, so that you can tackle and solve problems together and achieve better results.
So, you’ve mustered up enough courage to invite the person with whom you need to have a difficult conversation to meet you at your office. Imagine that this person is at your door. How do you feel? Probably nervous and anxious.
For this reason, it is easy to fall into certain traps, such as these, that should be avoided:
1- Making Small Talk. The person walks into your office and you start talking about the nice weather, the traffic, and you’ll even ask them something like: “How’s it going?” But they already know that things are not going necessarily well, so this approach comes across as being inauthentic and confusing.
2- Minimizing. By trying to soften the message too much, minimizing your concerns or highlighting what you see as a positive, you are again confusing the issue: “I know that it was not your intention, but…” or “I personally don’t mind your very direct style of communication, but it does cause some issues with the other members of the team…”.
3- The Sandwich Method: Compliment, reproach, compliment. “You’re really well organized, but your communication skills need a lot work; that being said, I’m really happy that you’ve joined our team.” Although many of us have been taught to write performance reviews this way, it is just a bad idea. These should be 2 different, separate conversations. Praise is important and goes a long way but don’t follow it up with a reproach.
4- Having already scripted the exchange beforehand. Since you probably know the other person well, you can already imagine the verbal exchange you will have. “I will say this, they will answer that, but I will be ready by answering this…”. You do have to have YOUR script in mind, but not the other person’s. You need to stay neutral and open, and let the conversation go in the direction it needs to. You must be open to the other person’s point of view in order to be able to solve the problem TOGETHER.
5- Overflow (a.k.a. the “dump truck”): You may tolerate and endure the behaviour you deem unacceptable for days, weeks, months or even years, until that last drop breaks the dam and causes a flood. You explode, and dump years of annoyance onto the other person all at once. By doing this, you are definitely going to say things that you’ll regret, and you’ll damage your relationship. This approach should be avoided at all costs! Do not wait until you reach this point of no return.
State the Problem Clearly in Less than 60 Seconds
Keeping to a time limit will allow you to say only what needs to be said, and to take responsibility while keeping the conversation on track. This will prevent you from veering off topic or going down the avenue of recrimination and blame, and help you avoid the traps mentioned above.
This first step of the conversation is essential: being assertive in the manner you state the issue will give you confidence for the continuation of the exchange. To learn more about this technique, GDF Talent offers a highly popular “Fierce Conversations Confrontation” workshop. During this workshop, you will discover a well-established and foolproof method that will teach you how to tee up any difficult conversation with a “60 second opening statement”. You will learn how to clearly state the problem and explain what’s at stake if the problem is not resolved, and invite your colleague to respond and find a solution TOGETHER with you. All of this in less than a minute!
Practicing Your Speech to Master a Difficult Conversation
When you have written your “60 second opening statement”, practice saying it out loud, or to someone in your inner circle. Your emotions, the intonation of your voice, the position of your body and even your facial expressions may contradict the message you are trying to convey. However, with practice, you can learn to control your emotions (fear, frustration and anger). It’s not about hiding these emotions; it’s rather about not letting them control you. Become aware of your body language. Learn to use it in your favour and even, for the more perceptive, to decode the body language of the other person. As for your personal judgments (judgments towards the other person, the situation, or yourself), you have to be aware of them, and understand them, so that your speech is not altered by them. Practice allows you to convey a message clearly, succinctly and effectively.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, our Fierce Conversations Confrontation workshop provides the opportunity to learn strategies on how to tackle difficult conversations. The techniques taught in this very interactive workshop will be of great help to you as you prepare for both your “opening statement” and the conversation itself. Above all, remember to separate the problem from the person, and practice what you are going to say. Even with preparation and practice, this type of conversation is still difficult, but it opens the door to change, will improve your most conflictual relationships, and help you attain the results you want.
You can consult our web page for more details on this workshop.