Inevitably, no matter what line of work you are in, you will need to lead a difficult conversation at one point or another in your career. You may need to give bad news, communicate performance issues, or express dissatisfaction to elicit change of some kind. Whether the conversation is with your manager or a direct report, these types of conversations can be very intimidating. It’s important to be prepared to lead the conversation well to elicit the best possible outcome.
In order to have a productive, difficult conversation, it’s important to make sure you have it at the right time and in the right place. Schedule a time that works for both parties, do not catch the other person off guard. Set aside a private and comfortable space. Do not have a difficult conversation where others may hear you and join in. (This may sound obvious to some, but you’d be surprised how often this gets people in trouble.) Make sure to give yourself time to grasp your bearings about a situation before you have the conversation, so that you are calm and collected.
Before beginning the conversation, make sure you have a goal in mind. Don’t just go in and point out what is going wrong, but come up with a solution on how to resolve the problem. Keep in mind the other person may or may not agree with your proposed solution and remain open-minded to their opinions. Try to take your emotions out of the conversation and only address the facts. Keep in mind it’s not just what you say but how you say it. Pay attention to the non-verbal way that you communicate. Make eye contact, nod your head, smile, and sit/stand upright during the conversation to show you are engaged. It’s important to be collaborative during the conversation. A conversation is always two ways. This is not just your time to talk. This is your time to come up with a solution that works for both parties.
To have a productive difficult conversation, be collaborative, keep your goal in mind, pay attention to your non-verbal cues, and focus on the solution. Remain positive and try to ease the other person’s natural defense mechanisms. Following these guidelines, you will be prepared for success when leading difficult conversations at work.