Take Control of Difficult Conversations
If you find yourself on the brink of committing to a difficult conversation, here are a few items of note and consideration:
Prepare: Don’t walk blindly, or even casually, into a potentially volatile situation. Know what needs to be accomplished in the conversation. Be prepared to discuss specifics about desired actions, behaviors and expectations. Anticipate bad reactions and your responses to them.
Deliver: Give bad news in the first sentence. Don’t sugar coat or beat around the bush. Difficult conversations are best dealt with head-on. You’ve prepared your approach, now respect your diligence with straightforward delivery. Make sure your conversation revolves around behavior, and not the person in general.
Focus: It can sometimes easy to get carried away when delivering a well thought-out idea. Make a conscious effort to keep this interaction a dialogue, and not a monologue. Notice reactions and emotions. Stay on the alert for defensiveness (victim, “it’s not my fault”; aggressor, “it’s all someone else’s fault”; avoider, “there’s nothing else I can do”). Stay on track. Don’t get lost in tangents or tirades.
Listen: Once you’ve said your piece, and kept the conversation focused and on track, stop and listen. Pay attention to what is being said and what is not being said. Notice body language and tone of voice. Paraphrase what you’ve heard back to the other person to both express your interest in their thoughts as well as ensuring your own understanding of what was said.
Document: An undocumented work discussion may as well have happened at the water cooler. If you’re going through the trouble of addressing a serious issue, document what was said and why, and explain plainly and with appropriate detail what was agreed to, committed to, and timetables involved. Schedule follow-ups and check-ins as necessary.