That difficult conversation

Through interviewing a huge amount of people over the years, one of the most common weaknesses I’ve come across is the lack of ability to manage conflict and difficult conversations. When I ask for an example of how to manage conflict, I’m often given a weak response with very little substance.

I find that, more often than not, staff members are sheltered from these conversations due to HR managing them, or worse (and probably the more frequent reason) they’re not had in the first place. The truth is, no one likes to be part of a difficult conversation. It makes most of us nervous and uncomfortable. However, this is simply another reason why they must be had.

I’ve summarised my key ideas below for how to initiate a difficult conversation:

    1. Choose the right environment – wherever possible, endeavour to have a difficult conversation behind closed doors. No one likes to be told off, or wants to defend themselves, in front of other team members. Be sensitive!
    2. Know how to begin – Make sure you don’t ambush the other party. You might have gone over the issue a hundred times in your head, but they might not even know there is an issue. Give them the courtesy of clearly understanding what you want to discuss.
    3. Set an agenda – Often the hardest part is actually starting the conversation. Be direct and initiate the conversation. Be clear about the issue and know your objectives
    4. Manage your emotions Yes, this may be hard at times however I believe it’s imperative to manage your emotions if you are expecting to have a good outcome from your conversation. This has been proven – time and again! It’s a pretty solid way of making the conversation a positive thing for both parties, too.
    5. Be curious – Ask questions. Try to understand the other party and why they’ve responded in a certain way. Get to the bottom of the issue.
    6. Listen – Take time to listen to the other person/party. Make sure you hear their responses and give them the ability to respond to any of your concerns or queries.
    7. Be consistent – Don’t send mixed messages. Be consistent in what and how you communicate to the other person.
    8. Agree outcome & move forward – Make sure you agree the outcome and next steps so that you are both on the same page. If needed, follow-up in writing to confirm what the outcome was.

At the end of the day, I’m a firm believer in ‘taking the bull by its horns’ and dealing with an issue head on and immediately. So wherever possible, my general rule of thumb is to ensure you address any minor issue before they become a major one.