How to handle challenging conversations…

Leadership is a tricky path with many obstacles along the way resulting in the need for some sometimes challenging conversations.  It is your responsibility as a leader to ensure you can address these in an effective, confident manner and not shy away from addressing them.  In this blog post we will discuss some ways you can make your challenging conversations run more smoothly.

If we view something as difficult then it is expected that we will end up feeling more apprehensive as the event draws closer. Think about the conversation you need to have and focus on approaching it with a more optimistic view.  Harvard Business Review provide examples such as, you are not giving negative performance feedback; instead you are having a constructive conversation about development. You are not saying no your boss; you are offering an alternate solution.

Ahead of the conversation make sure you are clear about the issue and make a plan of what key points you wish to address to ensure you do not let it go off-track.  Plan a range of responses and think about different routes the conversation could end up taking so you are prepared, but flexible.

Staying calm and taking a deep breath may sound easy, but it can work wonders.  Taking regular breaks to give yourself some ‘breathing space’ and separating yourself from the situation will help you to not only feel calmer, but will give you time to view the situation with a different outlook.  If you have been mulling over the impending conversation for a while and are either struggling to come to a conclusion or cannot see any other routes, then taking some time out to clear your mind could help with this.

Make sure you do not take the hierarchical approach by considering that because you are the manager, your way or conclusion is the only possible route.  Take time before or during the conversation to have a clear understanding of what your employee’s thoughts and feelings are and then as HBR comment, this will enable you to “look for overlap between your point of view and your counterpart’s”.

Do not be scared of silence!  Silence can make us feel awkward and result in us rambling on with an unnecessary or irrelevant comment.  Instead use these natural moments of pause for you both to collect your thoughts and let the messages sink in.  This will help keep the conversation on-track as you reply with a more thought through response which addresses the correct issues.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider that this conversation may be a sensitive topic.  Therefore, show empathy and compassion and deliver it with fairness.  You do not want to ruin the relationship you have with the other person by saying something which they take offense to.  Remember, it takes years to build bridges with people and only minutes to blow them up!

At the end of the conversation take some time out to consider what went well and what did not go so well; this will help you plan for future conversations and be more prepared to tackle those parts that did not go well with a more effective manner.   Think about how you reacted to certain parts and whether you could prepare yourself better next time.

Use these key points when you are next faced with a challenging conversation and ensure you are well-prepared and the outcome is positive for both you and your counterpart. If you are interested in attending management training on handling challenging conversations, we have the course for you!  Check out our ‘Challenging Conversations and How to Manage Them’ course on our website.

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