Tackling those Tough Conversations

November 12, 2021

Let’s face it, we’ve all had to front up to those uncomfortable conversations once or twice in our life. Very few people are experts when it comes to drawing a line in the sand and calling someone out for their behaviour, or requesting something new of an employer, such as a salary raise. Knowing how to deal with these conversations can help us get a better resolution and a more desirable outcome from the actual talk, however. We’ve compiled some top tips to help you front up to those conversations, and to not pre-emptively assume how the conversation will go.

Be clear about how you feel and what you want

Perhaps the biggest struggle when it comes to tough conversations is communicating the actual root of the problem, and how we’re actually feeling. Often we’ll skirt around the issue as we focus on avoiding any offence to the other person, or allow our nerves and emotions to cloud our judgement when it comes to communicating.

Try to plan beforehand what you actually want to say, so that regardless of how the conversation goes, you’ve got something to fall back on.

Start out by explaining the HOW, WHAT and WHY for your feelings.

Ensure that you use “I” statements. “You clearly xxxx” doesn’t work, as it puts immediate aggression on the person you’re speaking to, and it immediately becomes an argument about your perception of their behaviour, rather than a resolution of the actual issue you’re raising.
Individuals are more likely to become abrasive when the conversation is about their behaviour, and when it looks like they’re entirely to blame. Acknowledge that there are two sides to every situation and that they are likely to have their own view on the situation.

A great way to find resolution is to describe exactly what you want from the discussion from the outset – i.e. “I wanted for us to have a chat about the expectations of this project, as I am a bit confused about the requirements and want to be on the same page.” or “I’m hoping to understand what goals I would need to meet in order to receive a promotion or a raise”.
By defining the resolution early on, you can help to guide the conversation in a positive direction and can very quickly pick up when the conversation goes off topic.

Make sure you listen

Often we’ll spend time in these difficult conversations mulling over what we’re wanting to say next, and we can get that tight feeling in our chest where we feel we absolutely NEED to say this next thing on our mind.

Stop and actually listen to what they’re trying to say. Hear their point of view and try and understand where they’re coming from. Don’t talk over them, but wait for them to finish or for the natural pauses in the conversation to ask questions such as, “Can you please explain a bit more” or “How does that make you feel?”

Consider the issue from their perspective

It can be very easy to get swept up in how you are feeling about a situation, especially if you’re feeling awkward or hurt about something. Before jumping to any conclusions, however, try to put yourself in the other persons shoes and see the situation from their perspective.

Consider what might be five reasons for the way the person has acted?

Is this in character or totally out of character for them? If it’s out of character, then perhaps something else is bothering them which has caused this outburst?

Remember that people do and say things for many different reasons. It’s not always about you.

If things aren’t going to plan, take a break

There’s no shame in admitting that the conversation isn’t going cordially or in a favourable direction, so don’t be afraid to say “Do you mind if we table this for a bit and take a breather? I need to mull this over a bit more”

Taking a step back from a situation, especially if it gets heated allows both parties to mull over the discussion and begin to simmer down a bit. Once you return, you can try again and encourage them to express how they’re feeling as getting something off their chest may be the first step towards resolution.

If things still aren’t going to plan, consider asking someone who isn’t closely involved to join you both and mediate, as you’re more likely to remain level-headed in the presence of a third party.

If this still doesn’t work, take the conversation to a public space, such as a café where the natural social order can prevent any ridiculous or unreasonable outbursts.

Remember, it’s just a conversation

It’s so easy for us to get swept up in our heads about a conversation and forget that the person at the other end is just like us. You’re your own person and have a right to express how you feel, and what concerns or elations you may have, especially at work.

Remember that at work, timing can often be important. Springing a question about your salary on your leader as they’re passing by your desk on the way to a meeting is unlikely to be met with a positive outcome, compared to requesting a meeting to discuss your salary. The latter informs your leader of your intentions and allows them to compile and come to the table with their ducks in a row, prior to the meeting.

If you have a pressing concern, then message your leader privately and ask them if they’re free for a quick chat. Any good leader will always find a few moments to chat, and often voicing these concerns you have can help them be resolved rapidly.

If you have an issue with a colleague, then using the above steps to try and resolve it before taking it higher can often be met with a positive outcome and can avoid any negative feelings at a later date.

Find opportunities for you to have proper conversations with your leader. Request a 1-on-1 situation each month, where you can go through the past month and analyse what was good, what was not so good, and perhaps what frustrations or potential issues, or even high points you had.

Also remember that you’re not alone. As an employee, you have a right to work in a safe, healthy, and unprejudiced environment. If you encounter any strife, or are being mistreated by any employer or colleague, you can get support from Worksafe New Zealand.

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