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How to Handle Crucial Conversations at Workplace

Updated: Jun 29

Management inevitably involves having difficult talks, whether you’re informing a customer that a project is delayed or presiding over a performance assessment that lacks enthusiasm. How do you get ready for a conversation like this? How do you find the appropriate words in a crisis? How can the trade be managed to run as smoothly as possible?

What Professionals Say:

According to Holly Weeks, the author of Failure to Communicate, “We’ve all had bad experiences with these kinds of conversations in the past.” Perhaps your direct report started crying during a performance review, your supervisor yelled at you during a heated argument, or your client picked up the phone on you.

Therefore, we usually steer clear of them. But it’s not the correct response. After all, difficult conversations “are not black swans,” as human resources and organisational development expert Jean-Francois Manzoni at INSEAD puts it. The trick is to figure out how to deal with them in a way that results in “a better outcome: less pain for you, and less pain for the person you’re talking to,” he says. 

Here’s how to have these difficult talks and come away with what you need while still maintaining your relationships:

Adjust your mentality:

You’re more likely to feel anxious and unhappy before a talk you’ve classified as “difficult” if you’re preparing for it. It is recommended “framing it in a positive, less binary” manner as an alternative. In this case, you are discussing development rather than providing unfavorable performance evaluation. Instead of telling your boss “no,” you are presenting an alternative course of action. The best way to approach a challenging topic, according to executive leadership coaching, is to treat it like any other ordinary chat.

Think ahead but don’t write:

Before your conversation, making notes and outlining your main points might help you prepare what you want to say, according to leadership training. But sometimes it’s very unlikely that it will go according to your plan. When your opponent “goes off script,” you have no forward momentum and the conversation “becomes weirdly artificial” since he doesn’t “know his lines.”” According to experts, your approach to the dialogue should be “flexible” and include “a repertoire of potential responses.” 

Recognize your opponent’s viewpoint:

Avoid approaching a challenging topic with a “my way or the highway” mentality. It is advised pondering the following two issues before bringing up the subject: “What’s the issue? What does the other person believe to be the issue, then? She advises, “acknowledge that you don’t know and ask,” if you are unsure of the other person’s perspective. Tell your partner “that you care. “Take time to process the other person’s words and tone,” and “express your interest in understanding how the other person feels.” Once you hear it, seek for areas where your perspective and that of your counterpart overlap.

Observe and listen slowly:

Attempting to “slow the pace” of the discussion in order to prevent tensions from escalating. Speaking more slowly and hesitating before answering is an art of positive body language, and the other person “gives you a chance to find the right words” and helps to “defuse negative emotion” in them. If you pay attention to what the other person is saying, you’re more likely to discuss the appropriate topics and the conversation will always be more fruitful. Make sure your words are supported by your deeds. Saying, “I hear you,” while tinkering with your smartphone, is disrespectful.

BeLeader is one of the leadership training companies in Pune that offers comprehensive corporate leadership training that helps to handle crucial conversations at the workplace.  Connect with us to book a free 20 mins appointment.

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