Navigating difficult conversations or challenging conversations is a fundamental soft skill for employees at every level within an organization. These tough talks often revolve around delivering negative feedback, addressing workplace conflict, or discussing sensitive topics. As a result, they can elicit strong emotions and are typically fraught with different perspectives and priorities.

Whether you are a supervisor having a performance conversation or an employee looking to negotiate a raise–conversations of this nature can make even the most competent person feel unprepared.

To help navigate these conversations, we will share some strategies for successfully handling these tough conversations, leading to mutual understanding and a more positive change in your business environment.

Prepare and Embrace

Preparing for these difficult situations is paramount to having a successful conversation. Consider the major talking points, potential reactions, and the desired outcome to ensure you remain on track and confident throughout the discussion.

Embrace an open mind and use open-ended questions to promote an open dialogue, allowing everyone involved in the discussion to contribute to potential solutions, without feeling defensive.

The Rule of Three

A practical approach for managing difficult conversations involves something I like to call the Rule of Three. This strategy allows you to focus on three important things at any given time by helping to promote active listening but also giving you the opportunity to chime in without forgetting what’s on your mind. Once you get to 3 points you would like to make, share them!

These points should:

  • Extend the conversation
  • Refer back to the central issue
  • Be open-ended and contain questions

Open Dialogue

The power of asking questions during difficult discussions lies in fostering an exchange of ideas. Open-ended questions promote dialogue and exploration, as opposed to merely delivering information. They open up room for genuine reflection and discovery.

Here are some examples of open-ended questions:

  • “What elements do you think contributed to this situation?”
  • “How do you perceive this issue impacting our team’s performance?”

Implementing the Rule of Three in your difficult conversations paves the way for a more organized, engaging, and focused conversation. Benefits of this approach include enhanced effective communication, deepened mutual understanding, and stronger team bonds.

Active Listening

Playing an active role in the conversation doesn’t necessarily mean talking the most. Demonstrating understanding through active listening can often have a significant impact. The role of active listening in facilitating productive conversation cannot be overemphasized.

Here are some tips for being an active listener:

  • Paraphrase the other person’s statements to confirm comprehension
  • Start paraphrasing with phrases like, “From my point of view,” or “I believe you are saying…” to illustrate your understanding of their perspective
  • Provide verbal and non-verbal feedback to show engagement, such as nodding or brief affirmations like “ok”, “yes”, “right” when appropriate
  • Pose clarifying questions to deepen your understanding; if unsure, try asking “Can you help me understand __?”

By striking a balance between speaking and listening during hard conversations, you ensure that everyone’s perspectives are heard and taken into account.

Putting It All Together

By deploying these strategies during difficult conversations, organization leaders can foster a culture of effective communication, improved employee engagement, and better outcomes for all involved; while employees experience feelings of empowerment, value, and ownership.

To enhance your skills in handling difficult conversations, or for more resources on enhancing workplace communication, contact our Greater Human Capital team today. We’re here to support your organization in fostering a culture of open dialogue, mutual respect, and effective communication.