Don't Stress--Handle Difficult Conversations Like a Pro

Life would be so much easier if we just didn’t have to have “the talk.”

Some of us have made dodging difficult conversations an art form while others dive into them like a bull in a china shop. There is no easy way of having a conversation with someone that may very well hurt their feelings, put them on the defensive, or make you feel uncomfortable. However, depending on your approach, hard conversations with others can actually lead to personal breakthroughs, mutual understandings, and can even strengthen relationships rather than destroy them. Having a difficult conversation with a client is bound to happen at some point, so brush up on this skill now.

Remember: People aren't mind readers

In both personal and professional relationships, the other party does not know what you’re thinking unless you tell them. No matter how obvious you think your being about the problem, until you hold a conversation, not all of the information will be out in the open. In all seriousness, the offending party probably doesn’t know that they are doing something that upsets you, so holding a conversation is the first step to finding a solution.

Do note: confrontational conversations aren’t arguments. They are used to bring issues to the table in a calm and coherent way to produce some kind of desirable result.

Take a Breather

When you feel upset or otherwise emotionally charged about a situation that involves the other person, it can make having a difficult conversation feel that much more difficult. Emotions can take over leading to a total breakdown of the conversation and leaving the situation completely unresolved. You may say things you don’t mean, feel like you weren’t being heard, or cause the other person to get defensive.

Angry about something and want to call the person out right when they upset you? Think again. Wait 24 hours if possible, and an hour at the very least. The goal of confrontation isn’t to yell at someone, but to find a solution that works for both of you.

Always Have Them Face to Face

In our technology-driven world, it’s easier to send a text or email to say what we can’t say in person. The problem with this approach is that online communications can be taken out of context and be completely misinterpreted. Without human components like tone of voice, body language, and personal presence it’s hard to get the complete story.

If you find an online or text conversation is leading into an uncomfortable space, stop and redirect. You could say something like: “I sense this conversation is going in a direction that might be better spoken about in person. It’s important to me that we continue this. Can we find some time to talk more in person?” If an in-person conversation is not possible, speaking by phone is your next best option.

Plan Out Your Points and Have a Solution Planned

Be able to succinctly address the issue that’s bothering you. Try to make this less about emotion (unless the issue truly is about emotion) to make the conversation most constructive. Don’t just state the issue, but also state the requested solution.

Consider the Other Person's Point of View

Sometimes we may come into conversations with our own one-sided point of view. This can be limiting and doesn’t take the other person into consideration. There are always two sides to a story but if we don’t put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we will never get the full picture.

Look at the big picture. Maybe the communication breakdown was because you didn’t give clear directions. When you are willing to see the other person’s perspective, you learn what you can do to improve and move the relationship forward. If possible, get an outsiders take on the situation; a fresh set of eyes might help you see things more clearly.

Similar to other soft skills, it takes time to be comfortable with confrontational conversations. Follow these few steps to continue maintaining relationships and hopefully working towards what works best for everyone. What conversation have you been avoiding that you can now have with a little more ease?

Posted on July 30, 2016 .