Article: Having those difficult conversations

Life @ Work

Having those difficult conversations

Shying away from confrontation is human nature. But we mustovercome this impulse to gain respect and take control
Having those difficult conversations

Sermonisation doesn't help much if professionals don't soil their hands with characteristic organisational problems


These conversations are tough but mustbe done and if not done on time will onlyexacerbate the issue


How many times have all of us postponed difficult conversations? Chances are most of us, in our personal and professional lives, had to do it, dreaded it, procrastinated and wished there was some way out.

I went through this experience recently. I had to have a conversation with a senior manager whose role had become redundant due to a change in strategy; and I had a client conversation where I had to say NO!

The HR team gently kept getting me to close that redundancy conversation. Mybusiness team kept reminding me that the client was taking us for a ride. They had made commitments, they weren’t delivering and I had to call their bluff. I said I would, but I always found reasons to put it off and when my call did not go through I was relieved.

I was really surprised as I have always been able to have those tough conversations, and call a spade a spade. I have coached many leaders, done this myself in my HR role but now the going was uphill.

Eventually I did have the conversations but I was uncomfortable and would rather have been at the dentist than there!

All of us go through this: from telling our spouse that the holiday that they are pushing for is something we can ill afford, to talking to the bad performer in your team, to saying no to a client who wants the moon but is not willing to pay for it.
It is tough but it must be done and if not done on time will only exacerbate the issue.

Here are some ideas that will help you manage a difficult but necessary part of our social existence in the professional and personal worlds.

1. First things first

Decide on a closure date. Schedule the meeting and this has to be less than 2 days away. This insures you have a definite closure date.

2. Prepare yourself

a. What do I want to achieve
i. Eg. Letting a bad performer know of their performance – you want them to move on or improve. If you want them to move on, your prep and speech should be designed for that. If you want them to improve, your conversations and suggested actions should reflect this. You want to say no to a new purchase at home – is it a no or a postponement – be clear!
b. Why?
i. In the case of bad performance – think through the impact of not doing it – you’re missing deadlines or setting the wrong example and culture.
ii. In the case of the personal purchase, either you don’t have the money now or don’t think it is required at all.
The ‘why’ is very important to maintain our resolve.When there are doubts in the process, you can reassure yourself that you made the right decision by going back to the ‘why’ and reminding yourself.

3. Prepare for the person

a. It is important you think through the conversation from the other person’s perspective.
i. Will this be a surprise for them?
ii. What will their emotional state be like?
iii. What are their options – do they already have another job, do they have an unwell family member?

4. Cover your bases

a. Particularly in the professional front – ensure that the powers that be, your manager, HR manager and/or client know this is happening and will back you up on it.
b. On the personal front be prepared to share information like a bank statement or salary details or list of expenses coming up

5. Golden Rules

a. Go prepared – think through what you want to say and you may even jot it down to make sure you cover the whole issue rather than just some of its parts. Intentions don’t matter, the words you use do.
b. Hear them out – Understand the emotional component and acknowledge the recipient’s concerns. Otherwise you are so intent on finishing the difficult task that you are rushing the other person and just looking for closure.
c. Never argue –Such conversations don’t always end the way you would like them to. And arguing will be a lose–lose approach that will cause more discord.
d. Close conclusively – many a times understandings differ so repeat what you discussed, agree upon the conclusion and next steps clearly.
e. Give time - Do the conversation in private with a set time limit. That way the discussion will be mutually beneficial.

It’s human tendency to oppose conflict or confrontations. But believe it or not, people willrespect you more when you dare to have those difficult conversations, be it business or personal. So practise this art…and I’m sure the next tough conversation you have will only get easier!


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Topics: Life @ Work, Performance Management, Employee Engagement

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