It’s Friday morning. Everyone else in the office is finishing up projects, filling out timesheets, planning a lunch with coworkers, and looking forward to the weekend. But not you. No, you are anxious and worrisome, staring at the appointment on your calendar scheduled for 2 PM – you’ve got a tough conversation coming up.
Maybe you’re in a management role and you have plans to discipline or even fire an employee. Perhaps you had a disagreement with a coworker and need to squash it. Or maybe you’ve had a tough quarter and have a one-on-one with your boss that you know will be difficult. Tough conversations are part of the workplace and everyday life. Though they are uncomfortable, speaking your mind and communicating needs to others can be incredibly valuable.
So, in order to bust through the anxiety that accompanies these conversations, it’s a good idea to prepare accordingly. Here are some examples of common tough conversations and some great ways to keep the chat on track.
Examples of Tough Conversations
Tough conversations can come in many forms, especially in the workplace. While conversations should be a two-way street, with both or all parties having the chance to be heard, most discussions will be fairly direct. For example, you might be discussing:
- Poor overall job performance
- Issues on a specific project
- HR issues, such as attendance or workplace ethics
- Interpersonal issues
- Disciplinary action, like suspensions or probation
- Employment termination
Just looking over that list is enough to give anyone a sense of mild panic. However, when you know these discussions are on the horizon, there are some excellent ways to prepare.
Tips for Tough Conversations
At work, it’s rare to be truly blindsided by tough convos. Sure, being fired abruptly does happen, or you may have offended someone in a workplace dispute without even realizing it. But generally, you’ll be able to prepare for the upcoming talk whether you scheduled it or were invited to the conversation.
- Identify Your Objective
What do you want to accomplish with this discussion? Are you looking for someone else to take responsibility for their words or actions? Do you want to see a specific behavior change? Do you need to let someone go? Whatever your goal, these talks are best if they’re kept short and sweet, and guided toward a single point. Otherwise, it’s likely to turn into a back-and-forth argument
- Plan Ahead
Scheduling a conversation is far superior to surprising someone with a tense discussion in the middle of the workday.You can speak to them about it, but their curiosity or anxiety may lead to questions, and therefore lead you to having the discussion right at that moment. Send an email invite with a brief description. Not only will this help to nail down a time, it also creates documentation in case management or HR needs it for later uses. This also ties back to the idea of identifying an objective, as some conversations like firing someone should happen later in the week, and others such as one-on-ones are better suited for Mondays so that the recipient can apply the feedback to their work immediately.
- Center Your Emotions
There’s no space in effective conversations for yelling, crying, or otherwise emotional expressions. You’re already going up against another party who will likely want to argue or at least express their rebuttals. Before beginning a conversation, check in on your emotions and keep them from entering the dialogue. Now, that doesn’t mean speak to them like a robot; empathy and kindness can go a long way, especially when you’re trying to convince someone of a change. However, be aware that these feelings can also make you susceptible to manipulation.
- Speak Clearly and Concisely
“I don’t quite know how to say this, so I think I will just drag it out…since the dawn of time…” – Michael Scott
During the conversation, it’s important that you don’t mince words. Unlike Michael Scott in the above quote, get right to the point. Though the topic might be delicate and you feel as though it deserves a wind-up, you’ve already scheduled the conversation. This means everyone involved has been agonizing over the discussion, and a straightforward manner will be much more appreciated. Additionally, when we start to ramble on or let conversations go longer than needed, it’s more likely we will backtrack or start to negotiate with ourselves. Say what you mean in as few words as needed, and then let the other person speak or be comfortable in the silence.
Make the Most of Difficult Conversations
They say the devil is in the details. While this adage might cast a negative light on difficult conversations, the truth is that preparing for these discussions is essential to making them productive. By taking time to consider your objectives and centering yourself emotionally, you ensure that chats will accomplish goals, not become a fight or argument.