Whether you are just starting out in your career or a seasoned CEO, difficult conversations are to be expected in day-to-day interactions in business. No matter how friendly you and your coworkers are to one another, having to tell someone that they are demotivating the team is not an easy thing to communicate. If you’ve ever dropped the ball on a high-profile project, you know the dread that accompanies telling your boss.
Most of us are born with an innate desire to please others and have positive relationships. The good news is that it’s totally possible to alleviate some of that pre-conversation stress and anxiety. The even better news is that mastering the art of having difficult conversations is a super useful tool in your leadership tool-kit. Having difficult conversations is one of the key things we need to be able to do, and do effectively, if we want to grow professionally and advance our careers.
Here are 5 important questions to ask yourself before having a much-needed difficult conversation.
What outcome do I want as a result of having this conversation?
Another way to ask this important question is, “What outcome do I want as a result of having this conversation?” You should quickly follow this question up with, “How beneficial is this outcome or purpose?”
Too often we go into situations at work not truly understanding what exactly is our ideal outcome. For example, if your purpose is to tell someone they were wrong to interrupt a meeting and that they need to change themselves in some way, that conversation is likely not going to go well.
Alternatively, you can go into this difficult conversation seeking to understand what caused someone to react negatively in a meeting and share with them the impact it had on the team. With this intention, you are being supportive and promoting growth for yourself, your colleague, and the rest of the team.
What stories am I telling myself about the other person or the situation that might not be true?
It’s likely that in the build-up before a difficult conversation, you have told yourself a “story” about the person or situation involved. Since we can only truly see and understand our own thoughts and actions, that “story” is probably not the “whole story.”
A couple of common stories many people tell themselves that aren’t typically true is that another person isn’t open to feedback or they can’t share feedback because it will make the other person feel bad. Going into difficult conversations with these stories in our heads changes how we approach the conversation, and it’s typically not for the best.
How might I be over-reacting to the situation?
Check in on how your body feels before the difficult conversation. Do you feel charged or amped up? Do you feel sick to your stomach and sweaty? These general psychology “fight or flight” symptoms are a sign that you may be overreacting to the situation.
After all, the difficult conversations we have at work are usually pretty common across the majority of workspaces. In fact, they’ve probably been brought up before you ever thought to bring them up. Going into a difficult conversation aware that these issues are common, and that you don’t have to fight or flee, can help reduce any unnecessary emotional charge that would sway the outcome away from your favor.
What assumptions, beliefs or stories might the other person be holding that could impact how they receive your message?
Try stepping into the other person’s shoes for a few minutes before approaching the conversation. Just like you, this person has a lifetime of experience, assumptions and beliefs that shape the way they interact with others.
Because we have such a limited view into what is happening behind closed doors (physically and mentally) to other people, choose your words kindly. The idea behind this question is to look at things from the other person’s point of view so you can account for that in how you approach the conversation.
Based on my answers to questions 1-4, what’s the best way to approach and have this conversation?
By this point, you are equipped with so much more information and understanding going into this difficult conversation. Letting go of your emotional charge, approaching the issue from both sides, and really thinking about your desired outcome are all steps that put you in a great place to plan your approach to the conversation.
Asking yourself these 5 questions and taking the time to think about the answers will reduce your stress and anxiety around having difficult, but necessary, conversations. Now you can free up your energy to focus on other key issues in your professional life. Not to mention, you are on your way to being a more thoughtful and effective leader.
You don’t have to go through these things alone! If you’re grappling with having a difficult conversation now, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get a conversation started.