Confidence when faced with a difficult conversation
Difficult conversations in the workplace can arise for a wide range of reasons; whether it is the outspoken colleague who repeatedly interrupts you, the mentor who is not mentoring you, or your boss making vague or unreasonable demands, the upshot is the prospect of a difficult conversation that can leave you feeling uncomfortable and anxious. There are a number of reasons why it can be difficult to communicate with a colleague, whether it is that you have quite different perspectives of the world, differing communication styles, you lack trust in the person you need to approach or you feel strongly about the issue, regardless, the outcome can be a tense and uncomfortable working environment. It is incredibly unpleasant having to work alongside someone when you feel tense and perhaps even annoyed at something they are doing (or not doing). Over the long term this can have a negative effect on your mental health and wellbeing and potentially also on your career progression. However, there are ways to ease the way to having a difficult conversation and maximising the chances that you come away feeling that you have been heard.
Firstly, take a little time before you approach the person you need to speak to, to set out what it is you wish to communicate and what you aim to achieve from the conversation. Stick to facts when you do this, rather than opinion and if there are a couple of options point out both with rationale why you suggest one particular option over another. Jot this down so you have it clear in your own mind.
Next, go back to your notes and explore any assumptions you may have made in the conclusion you have reached. If you have assumed anything it may be worth just establishing if the assumption is a fair one before you broach the conversation. If you have a friend or colleague you can discuss it with, it is always worth getting an alternative perspective as they may offer insight you had not considered.
Acknowledge any emotions associated with what it is you need to say. If you are feeling annoyed or angry, it is worth exploring this before you approach the person you need to speak to. Anger is an expression of an unmet need, so what is it you feel you need that you are not getting? Establishing this will help you to clarify what you want to achieve from the conversation and enable you to communicate that need more clearly and logically. Also consider if you are part of the problem and what you might need to do to enable the relationship going forward.
Whether you agree with it or not, respect the other person’s perspective. This does not mean you have to agree with them, but take the time to listen and consider what they have to say as you may have missed something they have perceived. The added bonus of hearing the other person is that they feel respected and will be more inclined to listen to your perspective. When communicating your perspective be mindful not to directly contradict that of the person you are talking to as this will cause them to ‘defend’ their position and they will then be unable to hear your view point. Ask questions to clarify your understanding of what has been said and ensure you have not misunderstood anything.
When expressing your perspective take ownership of your feelings and concerns and look for areas of agreement and ways to progress. Have your possible solutions at the ready so you are not merely presenting a problem, but some starting points for a solution. Aim to agree commitments to future action and follow up with an email of main points so that you both have a frame of reference to return to later.
Remember, it is about respecting the other person as well as respecting yourself. You each have equally valid viewpoints and though they might differ, gaining a shared understanding of where each of you are coming from, will not only help resolve the immediate issue, but pave the way to a better relationship and more effective communication in future.