What Makes Difficult Conversation Difficult?

Hands up who likes holding difficult conversations. That’ll be no-one then. But that’s OK, and perfectly understandable. Nobody really likes holding difficult conversations because they inherently bring with them the potential for conflict, discomfort or embarrassment. It’s the fear of these consequences that are what really makes having the conversation difficult.

In a work environment, telling somebody that their work isn’t good enough or that they’re going to be made redundant, that they smell, or even asking a client to pay their invoice, can often be a difficult conversation to hold. And again it is because of the fear of the potential consequences. What if it kicks off and they start to get aggressive? What if they get upset and start to cry? What if the situation develops to a stage where I don’t know what to do or say?

Whilst even the thought of holding a difficult conversation might begin to make us feel uncomfortable, what we should be thinking about is the consequences of NOT holding that conversation. Are we really going to jeopardise the right and proper outcome of situation because we’re afraid of becoming embarrassed or frightened that we won’t know what to do or say next.

We have been asked to intervene in dozens, if not hundreds, of workplace situations that have been allowed to escalate simply because an appropriate conversation wasn’t held at the right time. Not only will that conversation become increasingly more difficult to hold the longer it is left, there is also the very real potential that the outcome will become increasingly more expensive to resolve.

There is no silver bullet that will suddenly take away the anxiety that a looming difficult conversation brings, but there are tactics that you can employ that can make the experience more palatable and easier to deal with.

Preparation is vital, both in terms of having your case and any evidence organised as well as being ready to handle all the potential outcomes. A prepared structure and timeframe of how you want the conversation to go and some key phrases to help you keep it on track will also help you get to your desired outcome.

With the correct preparation you’ll have the confidence to take on difficult conversations and very quickly they’ll be second nature and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

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