Difficult conversations are just that – difficult. Lots of us go out of our way to avoid them, but it usually comes at a cost. At work it may mean we don’t ask for what we want; we avoid having those hard conversations around accountability with our colleagues; or we don’t provide our direct reports with the honest feedback they need to grow. Like many other things, there’s skill and will involved here – with some learning and practice we can get better.
Let’s start by looking at guidelines for having difficult conversations:
- Be on the lookout for issues that could lead to difficult conversations and address them before they turn difficult.
- Approach a tough conversation sincerely, and be committed to having it; be clear on your objectives and don’t allow it to veer off-course.
- Use I vs. You language: “I’m not sure I have all the information, can you help me…” vs. “You didn’t get me the information…”
- Don’t let it get personal: manage your voice, emotions, and body language; know your triggers and take a time-out if you need it.
Now let’s look at a framework for engaging in the conversation and getting to a positive outcome:
- Listen: ask questions so you fully understand the other person’s perspective; interrupt only to summarize and ask clarifying questions.
- Validate: acknowledge the other person’s perspective, but don’t necessarily agree: “It sounds like this issue is very important to you.”
- Express your Position: tell the other person what you want him to know; advocate for your point of view without diminishing his.
- Problem Solve: brainstorm together how you can move forward; build on small areas of agreement and return to Listen if the conversation becomes adversarial.
- Confirm Agreement:determine next steps, including best ways to check-in.
So what difficult conversation do you need to have?