We Need to Talk: How to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation at Work
There’s tension at work among the members of your team. Or maybe you need to speak with an employee after receiving feedback from a client regarding an attitude problem. Or perhaps you need to elevate a team problem to your boss.
When there’s conflict at work, it’s important to confront the situation quickly and professionally. Not only is a clear path for conflict resolution important for any interactions that you as a leader may have—it’s also important to share with members of your team so that they’re better prepared to resolve conflicts as well. Here are some tips to make those conversations more comfortable and productive.
Gain some perspective
Understand that your initial reaction to a situation is likely not what you’ll want to lead with in a follow-up conversation. Allow your emotions to settle, and give yourself adequate time to process and prepare for the meeting to make sure it’s productive. It can help to first sit down with someone you feel comfortable talking to about the issue to get your thoughts and feelings out on the table, and to hear an unbiased perspective.
To help calm any nerves, understand that difficult conversations at work happen every single day. This isn’t the first, and likely won’t be the last—and it doesn’t need to be painful. Reframe the situation in a more constructive light by approaching it as an open conversation and a chance for employee development rather than a confrontation.
Put yourself in their shoes
In any conflict, it’s easy to become caught up in our own thoughts and perspectives surrounding the situation. Before you meet face-to-face, take the time to sincerely consider the other side of the story. This will help you take responsibility for your own actions in advance, take the situation less personally, and prepare for the many directions the conversation could turn. More on how to communicate with empathy here.
Identify what you hope to achieve
Remember that while the feelings you’re having are entirely valid, dumping all of them on your recipient isn’t likely to help you gain a desired outcome from the conversation. Question the purpose of this upcoming interaction and what you truly hope to gain from it. What is the ideal outcome? If you can, share this with your employee so they can get on board, too. Pinpointing your goals upfront can help you understand how best to approach the situation and keep the conversation on track.
Just before you head into the meeting, check your breathing. Deep breathing can help you enter the conversation calm and relaxed, free of tension and nervous energy. 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues, and breathing deeply can help relax your body language and facial expressions in preparation for a difficult conversation.
Keep an open mind
Though you may assume you’ve thought through every possible angle, enter the conversation with an attitude of openness and curiosity. Your job, first and foremost, is to practice active listening to hear out the perspective of the other person. Fight the temptation to interrupt, get defensive, or make assumptions. Instead, summarize and repeat back your understanding of what the person is saying and address their emotions to encourage deeper understanding and faster resolution.