What makes a Conversation, a Difficult Conversation?
A lot is researched, discussed and actioned about preparing both speakers and receivers on holding a difficult conversation. Some of the common scenarios for these at the workplace are salary negotiations, performance reviews and termination conversations. One may be an excellent communicator, an organized performer or a patient listener, but difficult scenarios where one finds themselves in a spotlight can make anyone think twice about how to go about it. Receiving training to conduct this is an extremely important step and discussing the same with colleagues and seniors definitely helps. It is often overlooked at the workplace and a manager is considered already ‘equipped’ with the tools needed to hold a difficult conversation. In my experience as a coach working with many experienced leaders, I feel they usually benefit with talking about such scenarios and gain more clarity as well as confidence by going over the principles of a difficult conversation and also by reconnecting with their own personhoods that propel a successful conversation. Today I am sharing some of my thoughts on what makes a conversation difficult and some takeaway tips to help make it more effective.
- The emotionally laden nature of the situation: Some of the traditional aspects of leaderships looked at a successful leader to be one who could keep their emotions aside and get the job done. This has transformed to appreciating an emotionally intelligent leader who can successfully channelize emotions to get the job done. Difficult conversations become difficult when there is a dissonance between how we feel and what action we are taking. Common emotions one experiences are fear, apprehension, guilt. To manage these, is the first step towards preparing oneself.
Tip: Create synchrony between what you feel and what action you are taking. If you need to let go off a staff member, consciously experience gratitude for their contributions instead of an overpowering guilt at cutting their term short.
- The what ifs associated with it: There is uncertainty in terms of reactions and outcomes. These make one second guess the choice of words or expression of emotions both as a speaker and a listener.
Tip: Try and answer the questions that pop up in your mind which could be related to your role in the conversation, the relationship you want to continue and the outcomes that will make you feel settled. For example, when asking for a salary hike, some hesitations can be about, “How will my manager perceive me?” “How will I justify my salary?” “What happens if they reject the hike and look at letting go off me soon because of unmet expectations?” Try and answer these for yourself to regain control in the conversation.
- Fear of one’s own position and perception: Reluctance and hesitation around conversations also happen because of feeling too powerful or too powerless in a conversation. You may want the receiver to know that this is your decision and your thought or the complete opposite of it. It affects how you will be viewed – as a person and as a professional and also what word about you will continue wherever this person goes next. Let’s admit it, no one likes to be the bad person or be remembered for having had unpleasant conversations at work.
Tip: Remind yourself that perception making is not a one time affair but how you conduct yourself on a regular basis and how you make people around you feel over time is how you will be perceived and remembered. You could be the messenger of bad news, but you can also be instrumental in ensuring the receiver’s correct understanding of the situation because you were the speaker.
- Re-visiting one’s own experiences: One has been at multiple places in one’s own career journey. The speaker today would have been a listener some time back. We often go back and forth in our emotional memory about such events. One may also go back to the feeling they felt when they received some unpleasant or unexpected news or bad feedback. It is human nature to avoid that feeling.
Tip: You are the best person to deliver an unpleasant news or the hard truth if you have once been on the other side. You are also able to hence see the big picture and appreciate that there are no forever good byes in business. Using your own experience to fuel the conversation rather than be deterred by it will take you to success.
- Sitting on the fence with the outcomes: One of the common reasons why one wants to defer or reject the conversation itself is not knowing what outcomes will the conversation bring. When one isn’t sure of what can be committed to in the conversation or not ready for the questions that the recipient may come with, there is a tendency to find a conversation difficult.
Tip: Enter the confidence knowing what is expected out of you, what answers you have and who can provide more clarity to what you don’t know. When you speak with certainty and belief in what is being communicated, it will not just be received in the right sense but will also be easier for the listener as well.
Reach out to our learning consultants at Human Dynamic to prepare your leaders to have a difficult conversation.
Director of Leadership & Learning, Senior Consultant
PhD (Clinical Psychology), MA(Psychology)