How to Approach Difficult Conversations

I will be the first to admit that I do not enjoy difficult conversations (and I know I am not alone). Many of us cringe at the thought. Sometimes we avoid them altogether or stall at the very least. Other times, we are filled with so much anxiety that the conversation isn’t even effective. However, difficult conversations are a part of life and we better get used to them because they aren’t going anywhere. In fact, delaying or avoiding conversations can make the situation worse.

Handling difficult conversations takes the right blend of emotional intelligence and planning to go off without a hitch. Whether you need to deliver tough feedback, confront a performance issue or talk through a blind spot, here are some tips that will increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

  1. Consider the setting and approach – Be intentional about the when and where. Should you schedule a 30-minute meeting a week in advance? Or 4 hours in advance? Should you not schedule any time and ask the other person to go for a walk or go to lunch? This is connected to knowing your audience and where it would be most comfortable to have the conversation.
  2. Know your audience - Lean in and customize delivery based upon the feedback recipient. In leadership, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. You need to know your team members and understand what works for them. For example, tough love does not work for everyone; and on the contrary, tough love only works for some. Be sure to understand the individual receiving the feedback before the conversation.
  3. Preserve the relationship and have a longer-term view in mind – You will want the outcome of the discussion to be positive for both parties. Avoid finger pointing, opinions and be respectful. In the same breadth, manage your emotions and stick to the facts. It also helps to have a goal before going into the conversation so that you have a bigger picture to focus on.
  4. Prepare for the conversation – Being prepared will help you stick to the facts and practicing will help to reduce nerves. Write down your key points, be consistent and do not be vague. Remember, it is important to be specific and direct to eliminate confusion on either end.
  5. Be genuine – When you are genuine, your intent is outward instead of inward. You reach out in a caring way.
  6. Be OK with silence – For many, silence is awkward and uncomfortable, but in reality, silence can be a good thing. It allows for processing time and the formulation of a response.
  7. Offer a solution – Once the feedback has been delivered and the other person has had a chance to process, let them know that you are there to help. You can either offer a solution(s) on the spot or suggest a follow-up meeting to collaborate on next steps. This will allow the conversation to end on a positive note and contribute towards preserving the relationship.

These tips have made a world of difference for me and I hope they can help you too.

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Lauren.Hanat_36About the Author

Lauren is a client relationship manager focused on providing business advisory and accounting services to franchise clients. Leading with a growth mindset, she empowers her team to make bold moves and own their career.  

Topics: Communication

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