It’s human nature to want to avoid difficult conversations. Most of us prefer to avoid conflict if we possibly can. However, in the workplace, hard talks are often part of the job, so how exactly do we go about achieving a positive outcome whilst avoiding any ‘fall-out’?

Read our tips to help navigate difficult conversations and increase your chances of achieving a favourable outcome for all concerned:

1: Avoid a combat mentality

If you take a stance that there must be a winner and a loser at the end of a discussion you’re taking on a combat mentality. Beware! In this situation, everyone is a loser and goodwill and rapport between the two of you is lost. There is a better way. Use a conversational strategy that is open, co-operative and includes the ability to listen.

2: Don’t try to oversimplify the problem

Difficult conversations often hail from complex issues that are not so easy to resolve. You may be tempted to simplify the problem to arrive at some kind of answer but that won’t get to the root of the matter. It may be overwhelming to face more than one issue at once, but ultimately it is the most effective route to a more workable and realistic resolution.

3: Remember to be respectful

No matter how difficult a conversation, the key to navigating your way through is to be respectful to the person you are talking to, and to yourself. Respond appropriately, say nothing you will regret, and do so even if faced with hostility and provocation. You’ll be pleased you did so after the event.

4: Attack or defend? Neither!

When discussions are tough, emotions can oscillate between attack and defence or they may sit stubbornly in one camp. If you’re not stating what you really want, it’s unlikely you’ll arrive at your desired outcome. Be clear, be calm and stay focused on the end result.

5: Don’t react to thwarting behaviours.

Whilst a conversation might be peppered with a plethora of behaviours and language, all with the potential to provoke a strong response, your best position is to remain calm and centred on the points you are trying to make. Whether you’re faced with someone shouting and getting emotional, or deliberately being awkward and negative, stay true to your balanced, clear position and stay focused on the outcome you want to bring about.

6: Be aware of your weak spots

Some things that people say may affect you more than others. If they touch on certain weak spots it can be harder to resist the temptation to ‘fight back’. Learn more about your own areas of vulnerability, be aware of how you have reacted to certain comments before, and prepare strategies for coping that you can draw on when the time comes.

7: Avoid overthinking the issue

When you know a conversation is going to be difficult, you may find yourself going over in your mind what it is you want to say. What you can’t predict however, is how the other person will react. An effective strategy is to try and agree with your counterpart on the exact nature of the problem, then work towards a desired outcome. Above all, remember that a priority objective should be to maintain a co-operative working relationship.

8: Don’t make assumptions about our counterpart’s intentions.

In the midst of a tricky conversation, you may forget that you don’t have access to anyone’s intentions but your own, and therein lies the problem. Are you assuming that your counterpart is just being awkward, or are you trying to understand the issue from their point of view? Clarity is important – ask open questions to help you understand the other’s perspective, and listen attentively, without judgment, so they feel they are being heard.

Conclusion – stay focused on your goal

Remember that however difficult a conversation is, it’s important not to be drawn into unhelpful comments or behaviours. Use the strategies mentioned here to stay on track for a mutually agreeable outcome. It’s not about winners and losers, it’s about collaborating, having healthy debate, and ultimately achieving a resolution where both parties feel happy, consulted, and on side.

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