Problem solving

5 tips for handling hard conversations in the workplace

- May 9, 2023 2 MIN READ
two women having a meeting or difficult work conversation

Difficult conversations as a business owner can be nerve-wracking – whether it’s managing a difficult employee’s behaviour, performance managing someone or delivering a negative performance review, having a conversation about an uncomfortable topic or negative experience can lead to high emotions, conflict and disappointment, writes Amber Williams, CEO of the Resolution Institute.

But there are some strategies you can employ before, during and after a difficult conversation, which can lead to a successful outcome.

Here are five steps to consider to lower anxiety levels, prevent angry outbursts, and have a conversation where everyone is heard and respected, and emotions are kept in check.

1. Don’t let a situation fester

The longer you leave a difficult conversation, the harder it will become.

The nature of these discussions means they are often avoided or left in the too-hard basket, until circumstances force both parties to confront a problem or issue. When this happens, emotions are generally heightened and there’s a real risk that the conversation could run off the rails.

2. Concentrate on the facts, rather than feelings

It can be difficult to remove the emotion from a difficult conversation. One party might be feeling hurt, anxious or defensive, while the other could be angry or confrontational. By sticking to the facts of a matter and dialling down the emotional heat, you have a much better chance of resolving an issue.

3. Be respectful and give the other person a chance to give their point of view

Sounds simple, but listening to the other side of an argument or discussion without interrupting means that if and when you do reach a conclusion or resolution, both sides will be satisfied that they were given an opportunity to say their piece.

This can’t be stressed enough – even if you’re not happy with the outcome of a difficult conversation, being heard can have a huge impact on the attitudes of both parties after the conversation is over.

4. Approach the conversation as an opportunity to resolve a problem

Entering a difficult conversation with the mindset that there will be a winner and a loser, or as an opportunity to vent or score points, isn’t conducive to having a reasonable discussion. If you are responsible for setting up the difficult conversation, outline some of the points you’d like to cover, and some preferred outcomes.

5. If you’re deadlocked, get help

Sometimes you just can’t reach an agreement in a difficult conversation and need a third party to help you – one who doesn’t have any skin in the game. If you think a neutral party might assist you to reach an agreement, consider using a mediator to help you find common ground and reach a conclusion that both parties are satisfied with.


This article was first published on Kochie’s Business Builders, read the original here.

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