Having a Difficult or Awkward Conversation

We have all been in that situation when we need to have a potentially difficult or awkward conversation. It might be with a regular client who hasn’t paid their invoice, with a under performing member of your team, or an irate customer. Whilst we all know too well that these conversations need to happen, for some reason we love to put them off, for fear of conflict or potentially upsetting a valued client, customer or colleague.

You plan for the conversation over and over again and sit there psyching yourself up; you pick the phone up and then put it down again, you wipe the sweat from your brow before making a strategic decision “I’ll leave it until next week, they probably won’t answer away”. Putting it off doesn’t benefit anyone, so here are a few tips on getting what you want from this type of conversation…

Whose difficult conversation is it?
I’ve got news for you – it’s not yours it’s theirs! You shouldn’t lose sight of this and by affirming this over and over to yourself it actually moves the issue into their ballpark, not yours.

What do you want the outcome to be?
When preparing for the chat make sure that you clearly understand what you want the outcome to be. For example, when do you want the invoice paid? How do you want your employee’s performance to improve and by when? What support will the employee need to achieve your desired outcome? As well as having a desired outcome in mind, also have a Plan B (i.e. what you are willing to accept/compromise on) so that you still get what you want out of the discussion.

Make sure that you gather all of your information, supporting evidence and stats etc. You don’t want to look silly half way through your chat when you don’t have everything at hand or you haven’t done your homework properly.

Did you see the match last night?
If you are a manager and are having a chat with one of your team members and you want the discussion to be more formal then it might be an idea to meet them in a meeting room. Don’t walk down to the room with them, as there is a temptation to talk about football or Coronation St due to the tension or nerves and the seriousness of the chat will be lost. Meet them in there and don’t walk back with them either, for the same reasons.

You’ve got 60 seconds
Don’t waffle, say what you have to say within the first minute. Explain:-
The situation (-factually based only)
How it has impacted on you and possibly others, i.e. the team
The consequences of the situation/their actions
Then hand it over to them for an explanation. Remember it’s their difficult conversation not yours.

Have an open mind
Enter the discussion with an open mind – don’t be too stubborn and don’t get too hung up about un-related incidents or knowledge of what has gone on in the past as this may well skew your judgement. Listen to what the other party has to say, but never lose sight of the original reason for needing the discussion and the desired outcome.

Plan of action
Make sure that you end the conversation by detailing what the next steps are, e.g. the invoice will be paid, in full by next Friday. Where possible, always back up face to face or telephone discussions with a follow-up email detailing what has been agreed. This way, there is less room for mis-interpretation of what needs to be done as a result of your discussion.

Get over it
Once the conversation is over, just move on. If you have got your desired outcome, draw a line under it and take confidence from it, after all you’ve probably got another 20 plus of these types of conversations to have! If it didn’t go to plan, learn from your mistakes and try a different approach next time – and remember, nobody is perfect!

These types of conversations are never easy and even the most accomplished professional doesn’t like them, regardless of how confident they appear. However with a bit of careful preparation and a clear understanding of what you want from the chat then may be the conversation needn’t be so daunting.

Need a hand developing your challenging conversation skills? Contact us now for a chat to see how we can help, or speak to Mike direct on 07825301660

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