Having the tough conversations


Truth: Difficult conversations never get easier.

Those in management positions will confirm that no matter how much experience they have, they never get used to the apprehension felt when confronted with another tough conversation.

Regardless of if the conversation is in your personal or professional life, the reason they cause so much stress is because you will never know how the other party might react. When emotions are involved people don’t convey their messages effectively and when not managed correctly, you can end up further away from an outcome than when you began.

There are some guidelines to manage a conversation to increase your chances at producing a workable outcome.

PREPARE. Remember a conversation is a two-way street. So, while it is important to plan your end of the conversation, you must also anticipate how the other party may react, and the questions they may ask so you can prepare your response to a range of scenarios. If necessary, research relevant facts. The more prepared you are, the more composed you will remain throughout the discussion. Keep your goal in mind and imagine the best possible outcome and work backwards from there.  Critically, be authentically you, be consistent. 

ALLOW YOURSELF TIME. When the conversation is centered around emotions, it is important to give yourself time to ‘feel your feelings.’ If you enter the conversation in the height of your emotions it will be difficult to stick to your plan, and you may become unproductive in your responses. Time heals, so allow yourself as much as you need before you begin. I personally rehearse my conversation out loud multiple times to myself before I begin any emotional conversation.

BEGIN THE CONVERSATION. I find it best to jump in feet first. Spending time exchanging pleasantries can increase the anxiety and tension for both parties. State what needs to be said and follow it up with an ideal outcome. For example:

 “I have bought you in here today as I have noticed your targets have not been met for the last three months, I want to develop a plan with you so we can work this out.”

Allow time for a response. Question them on how they are feeling and really listen to their response. Be mindful, there will be times when the individual may not agree with your statement and it is important to give them a chance to be heard.

CAREFULLY CHOOSE YOUR LANGUAGE. When the conversation is not going to be pleasant, remember everything you say is at risk of being misconstrued. It is common for people to deflect fault from themselves onto you. This is why preparation is so important. It will enable you to convey a very clear and honest message and keep a level head when responding to the individual, so they feel supported instead of criticized.

DETAILS. When it is a question of performance or behaviour. Always have examples to accompany your feedback. It is common for people to not want to admit fault, so the more clarity you can offer, the quicker the critique will be accepted.  If you have developed a long laundry list of issues, STOP, choose not more than two items, three maximum. 

EMPATHISE. Find three ways to acknowledge the feelings of the other party prior to beginning the conversation. Remember while you have given yourself time to process your emotions, the individual you are speaking to has not had the same opportunity. Be patient while they process what has been said, allow silence, and always follow up over the coming days to give them the chance to speak about any new thoughts that have occurred once they have had the chance to reflect.  Put yourself in their shoes. Be authentic. 

LISTEN. Don’t spend the time thinking about what you will say next when the other person is speaking, and don’t speak over the top of them. Really listen, be present and try to understand their perspective, you may find you agree, even if you dont agree give them the respect of listening. If they feel valued and respected, they will feel more comfortable to be honest and willing to work on a solution with you. Be authentic. 

AUTONOMY. The power of choice is an effective tool to give the individual a voice in the conversation. Give options wherever possible, this will allow both yourself and the other individual to have some control on the direction to take.

TAKE A BREAK. Not every conversation will have a workable conclusion, and emotional conversations can get heated. If you feel like the conversation is not headed in the direction of an outcome, take some time, hours or even days for both parties to relax and reflect and revisit at a later time. But if you do take a break, dont leave the room without committing to a time, date of a follow up.

CLOSE THE CONVERSATION. Take some time to summarise the discussion to ensure both parties are in agreement. Be sure to repeat the concerns or feelings of the other person in this conclusion so they know they have been understood. Demonstrate gratitude to the person for contributing to the discussion and conclude with an encouraging or positive comment.

No one looks forward to these discussions but ignoring the issue or procrastinating will not get you results. Applaud yourself for taking action. You are one step closer to success and happiness. Be authentic. 

Love Life Love YOUR Life

Ferne Eliz King

About Ferne

Ferne is globally recognised and called upon for quickly accelerating complex change to achieve business strategies.  Translating strategies to actionable plans, prioritisation of those actions, engagement from the right people, bringing business architecture to life or your life plan if individual and in many cases driving the change as a program director.  The bottom line is Ferne accelerates businesses or individuals to achieve outcomes and enabling that is her passion.

What's the consequence if you take no action?

“If you do the same thing today as yesterday, your tomorrow will be the same as today”.  Ferne Eliz King

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