Preparing for difficult conversations

How do you prepare for difficult conversations?

Preparing for difficult conversations about behaviour, attitude or performance can be complex. We often feel that what we say may be received poorly or we may damage the relationship. As such we may procrastinate or avoid these conversations. It can be very uncomfortable to share a negative perception of someone’s behaviour, attitude or performance. The majority of the work in any conflict conversation is work we do on ourselves. We need to have the right attitude and approach.plan prepare difficult conversations

Even if the difficult conversation begins well we need to remain in control of ourselves, our purpose and our emotional energy. Keep on track and don’t get distracted.

Here are some ideas to reflect on before going into that emotionally difficult conversation:

  1. Approach it as a conversation, not a lecture! None of us like to be told what to do. An effective conversation involves two people talking, and it requires us to listen – not just talk.
  2. Keep your purpose clear in your mind. Why do you need to have the conversation? What are you trying to accomplish, and what would this look like? Having a clear outcome in mind can reduce getting lost and ending up attacking miscellaneous areas rather than keeping on point.
  3. Pick your battles. Some actions require immediate action, some are less urgent. We can only reasonably change one or two behaviours at a time. What behaviour, attitude or performance change would have the greatest impact?
  4. What impression do we want to leave them with? Remember: people judge us by our actions not our intentions (no matter how good). Even though we may feel our intentions are noble (like educating an employee or making our interpersonal relationships more comfortable for us), if our language is excessively critical or condescending we may leave a poor impression and get the opposite behaviour to what we asked for. Good intentions don’t negate bad impact.
  5. Gain perspective. Look at all the person’s behaviour or performance and not just the area that requires attention. We can easily become disengaged and feel attacked if someone ignores all our good work and only pays attention to the negative. Actively seek specific areas where their behaviour, attitude or performance has been positive. The ratio of positive to negative feedback is essential in increasing Employee Engagement and building relationships.
  6. What assumptions are you making? We sometimes feel attacked, ignored or disrespected, but beware of assuming that this was the other’s actual intention. Their action does not necessarily equal their intent. The easiest way to clarify this is to ask. Are they aware there is a problem? If so, how do they perceive it? What solution might they suggest? This should be a conversation not a one sided rant.
  7. What is your attitude toward potentially difficult conversations? How we feel about the conversation can influence our perception of it, and more importantly change our body language and tone. When we feel it is going to be very uncomfortable and difficult, it normally becomes so. A difficult conversation can be a made worse when our body language demonstrates our reluctance and discomfort. When we approach the conversation as a dialogue and learning opportunity, truly believing that whatever happens some good will come of it, that is more likely be the case.
  8. Are you a contributing factor? How much have you contributed to the problem? Sometimes their behaviour, attitude or performance stems from ineffective communication, training or support. How much of the change must come from them (and how much from us)?
  9. Ask for permission to give feedback. This may seem like a strange suggestion, specially if you are the boss. A willing audience is always easier to engage than a hostile audience.
  10. Seek mutual solutions. Ask for potential solutions or remedies to the problem. Rather than just telling get them involved. A solution they propose is more likely to succeed than one thrust upon them.Preparing for difficult conversations Infographic

Preparing for challenging conversations about behaviour takes time and attention, but helps build relationships rather than destroying them.

Leadership and learning Preparing for difficult conversations

Preparing for difficult conversations at work involves thought and keeping the desired outcome in mind.

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Richard Riche

Change Communication and Employee Engagement specialist at One Clear Message Consulting
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills. Employee Engagement / Experience, Emotional Intelligence skills, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. TED style speaking and presentation skills. Training, consulting and coaching.
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