Prior to the first conversation, I prepared my points, took a few minutes to clear my mind of other tasks, centered myself and closed my office door. The conversation started smoothy and seemed to go well with both parties satisfied of the outcome.
A week later, I was getting ready to call a manager after I had notified him that his employee should not be on the job due to ongoing mental health and substance use issues. It was a very hectic morning and the phones were ringing off the hook.
I had to call the manager quickly as I had less time that day for calls. I knew I hadn’t prepared as I had the week before. In my mind, I believed that the call may not go well.
The conversation started calmly, but due to both parties feeling stressed and having completely different ways of proceeding with this employee, the conversation went poorly and no issues were resolved. The other party said he would take the matter up with upper management and their company attorney.
I thought about both of these conversations and how I had prepared or failed to prepare and how that had impacted the outcome. It made me think of what is needed to have a successful conversation on a difficult issue.
Here are some tips for navigating difficult conversations:
- Approach the conversation with the goal of listening to the other person’s concerns vs thinking about what you will say.
- Speak as soon as possible.
- Putting off or refusing to speak with managers about work issues can cause resentments and create a toxic work environment. This can cause poor concentration and may decrease one’s work performance. Some studies say that employees spend just under 3 hours a week dealing with office conflicts. This is a lot of time and energy that can be costly for an employer.
- Have the courage to be honest and direct.
-Talking honestly and presenting your viewpoint with clarity creates mutually respectful relationships. If you or the other party feels on the defensive, clarity versus an overly direct style is best.
- Stay centered.
-As we get caught up in the heat of the moment, it becomes hard to speak with clarity. Practice breathing and write down some key points, which will allow for flexibility. Making a structured script may be too rigid and could lead to a problematic outcome. Try to remain calm and tell yourself that a good outcome is possible for both parties.
The Bottom Line
Rethinking difficult conversations can be so important and useful both professionally and personally. In these moments; prepare, stay calm and be confident that you are communicating in the most effective way possible. This will lead to the best results for you and the other person.
Kay Gimmestad, LCSW-C is a business coach and clinician in New York City with 20 years of experience working in the profit and not for profit sectors of Human Resources, Health and Human Services. She has built a reputation for being highly skilled in facilitating behavior change while working with employees, both individually and in groups, on matters relating to performance management, substance abuse, crisis intervention, and stress/wellness.