The Checklist for Having a Difficult Conversation
There are few things more awkward than having a difficult conversation, but there’s a staggering cost to avoiding conflict in the workplace. Exit interviews reveal that “chronic unresolved conflict” is a decisive factor in at least 50% of all employee departures. I’d like to suggest that we start thinking about conflict differently, as a good thing. What if we used a negative situation to create positive change? What if we considered the following so we can “be the change” we want to see. Scroll down for some of my personal checklist for handling a difficult conversation.
Be laser sharp about your goal by running through this checklist first. What precisely do you want to accomplish with the conversation? Does this mean the conversation should be directed to another person? What is your ideal outcome? What are you committed to provide in order to create a solution? What obstacles might prevent these outcomes from taking place? Often when I give real consideration to these points, my position (and attitude) changes dramatically.
Reflect on your attitude toward the situation and the person you need to involve. What are your preconceived notions about it? Your mindset will predetermine your reaction and interpretation of the other person's responses. It pays to approach such a conversation with the right mindset—don’t assume anything.
Being emotional when you confront any type of conflict is normal, but it doesn’t help your case to reach a compromise. Resist the temptation to escalate the situation by adopting a neutral tone. Demonstrate you are committed to respecting the views of others, even if you don’t agree.
When we truly embrace silence, we are signaling that we’re comfortable with our position and in control. Resist the temptation to talk only to fill the vacuum. Just as the pause between musical notes helps us appreciate the music, so the periodic silence in the conversation allows us to hear what was said and lets the message sink in. Stop talking and allow the information to be processed; it can lead to a better outcome.
Limit any collateral damage to a relationship. It takes years to build bridges with people and only seconds to blow them up. Think long term about the situation, and act accordingly. No one wants to be the person known for being hot-headed or unreasonable to deal with.
Establishing a strong and consistent personal brand is underpinned by a genuine and sincere approach to those around us. And this includes taking control in moments where there’s an opportunity to deepen a relationship, instead of letting it go. So next time you find yourself hesitating to confront a colleague or client, run your checklist and be proud of the way you conduct yourself.
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How do you handle difficult conversations at work? Do you have any tips? Share them with us below.