How to Overcome the Dread of Tough Conversations at Work
Most people aren’t fans of confrontation, especially those that happen in the workplace. Seven out of 10 employees in the US would rather avoid them than face them head on — according to research from Bravely. Most of these conversations require a level of vulnerability, which can be uncomfortable. It’s likely you’re playing out the scenario in your head — a negative outcome, or no outcome at all — before there’s any evidence either of those will come to pass.
The truth is these conversations are important and often necessary. They can open the doors to the possibility of growth, change, and resolution. It’s crucial then that we shift our mindset of avoidance to one of how to approach each interaction we’ve labeled difficult. We’ve curated a list of three ways to help get you started.
- Gather your key talking points. While planning your script word by word won’t necessarily help you — you can’t predict what the other person will say — it can be helpful to list out vital information you wish to communicate. A helpful strategy is to be flexible and keep your language simple, direct, clear, and neutral.
- Consider the other person’s perspective. It’s important to remember the person you’re addressing may have a different viewpoint than you. This will allow you to anticipate the direction the conversation may go, give them the benefit of the doubt and room for empathy, and can help you prepare for the worst-case scenario. If you’re unsure what theirs is, ask and show them you care.
- Set up the meeting ahead of time. Launching into these types of exchanges without warning can prompt defensiveness and responses born from fear, anger, and shock. If you alert them of the discussion ahead of time, you allow them the time to prepare and come with collected thoughts and goals for what they want to achieve — the same courtesy you’ve given yourself.
Now that your prep work is done, here are a few things to consider to make sure the conversation is successful for both parties and the lines of communication stay open.
- Come with a sense of curiosity. You’ve already considered the other person’s point of view, now you should aim to understand it. Ask questions, slow down the pace, and engage in active listening.
- Transparency is critical. Recognize the other person’s emotions and look out for any efforts being made to hinder the conversation. Own up to the fact that you may not know the full story.
- Be respectful. Even though your perspectives may be vastly different, have a willingness to understand the other persons. Remember that both yours and theirs are valid and try to find a common ground.
Whatever the subject matter of the conversation you’re putting off, there is always a productive way to approach it. The more you practice addressing these situations, the less friction will be present the next time you go to do so. You may even find yourself wondering why you avoided them for so long to begin with.
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Written by Rachel Strysik