8 Steps to Approaching Difficult Conversations

Think about a conversation you’ve been putting off. You know what I mean … you’re avoiding it because you know it will be emotionally-charged, awkward or just plain difficult.

Maybe there’s an employee you need to confront who’s not performing like they should. Perhaps a disgruntled customer called, and you’ve been putting off getting back to them. Or a miscommunication has gotten in the way of a friendship.

Whatever the case may be, you won’t be putting off that big, scary conversation off much longer if you adhere to these eight steps:

1. Be neutral. Don’t let your emotions cloud the conversation. And never act on hearsay. Look at the circumstance from the other person’s point of view.

2. Look ahead. Imagine it’s three months, or even 10 years, from now. Put this conversation in perspective. See the forest for the trees.

3. Prep. Depending on the complexity of the situation, assess the facts and practice an “anchor” statement invest time to consider how the dialogue might play out. The key: You want to get your important points across, and do so clearly – without stumbling over your words.

4. Go in-person. It’ll be tough but it’s important to actually meet. Forgo email and other impersonal forms of communication, which can be easily misinterpreted.

5. Be direct. Look the person in the eye. Don’t sugar-coat or beat around the bush, which just prolongs a tough situation and can render a message useless.

6. Ask clarifying questions. Paraphrase to show you’re actively listening and to assure you understand where the other person is coming from.

7. Don’t play the blame game. There’s seldom any gain from pointing fingers. Let it be known that there are two sides to every story. Maintain a goal of your intended (positive) outcome.

8. Brace yourself. Be prepared for an emotional reaction. You can’t control the other person’s tears, anger or denial but you can be emotionally ready. Refer to step #2 … this moment of discomfort will be worth it in the end.

All in all, don’t ignore the “dead elephant” in the room. By doing so, you’re delaying the inevitable. By the same token, don’t react too quickly. The situation may be too “fresh” and emotions too raw.

The beauty of working together past a challenging obstacle in any relationship is the return you’ll get – it ultimately nets you peace of mind and even newfound respect with the person you were, at one point, so terrified to confront in conversation.

How about you? How have you approached those difficult talks?

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