Succeeding at Difficult Conversations

By Kristin Allaben, Executive Assistant & Strategic Communications Specialist

Having a difficult conversation is, well, difficult. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, two feelings that most humans hate experiencing and, therefore, try to avoid. But there are situations when the difficult conversation is necessary – whether that’s firing an underperforming employee, challenging a decision made or, for some people, just saying no.

I recently was faced with my own difficult conversation and, I have to be honest, it was a challenge for me. Though some people seem to be born with the gift of appropriately distancing themselves from a situation to come into the discussion with a calm, clear head, that’s not me. As a very passionate person, I know I need to work at staying calm, cool and collected, especially when emotions are running high.

Here’s the good news: anyone can learn to be calm, cool and collected. It’s about becoming more aware of your emotions, being tuned in to how you’re responding (not reacting) to those emotions and gathering as much information as you can to make a better decision.

This is how coaching has helped a passionate person like me.

Leveraging many of the techniques I learned through my own life and workplace coaching sessions, I was able to have an extremely productive difficult conversation.

Here’s why:

  • I asked questions. – Great managers and coaches ask questions. This gives them information to more effectively guide their employees/coachees to make better decisions. It also keeps everyone engaged and invested in the conversation. In my situation, I needed more information. Asking questions – and listening to the answers – was how I got that information.
  • I was firm. – I approached the conversation in a firm but professional manner. This was tricky, especially when the emotions tried to sneak their way into my voice, but pausing to take a breath helped keep my emotions in check and helped me stay focused on the purpose of the discussion.
  • I stayed calm. – Though angry, I refocused my energy into listening and having an intentional and productive conversation. It took self-awareness and self-management. If I were out of control, how could I expect a successful, thoughtful and solution-driven conversation?
  • I was empathetic. – I acknowledged the situation and empathized with how the other party was feeling. I did not, however, sympathize with them; I didn’t express my own feelings about their situation. This is an important distinction since sympathizing can quickly turn a productive conversation into a venting session.
  • I focused on a plan. – The conversation ended with clear next steps and a timeframe for when those items would happen. Both parties were also aware a follow up meeting will happen at the end of the agreed upon timeframe to ensure those items are implemented appropriately.

The next time you’re faced with a challenging situation, give yourself a moment to take a breath. Think about the outcome you want and what you need to do to get there. This moment of tuning in and reflecting will help you ground yourself to move forward in a much more productive manner.

Need coaching to help you learn how to succeed in difficult conversations? Contact Jay Forte for a complimentary 15-minute coaching conversation.

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