Tips to handle hard conversationsWe spend the majority of our day at work, with our co-workers.  With this much time spent together, conflict is inevitable. This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Conflict is a normal part of the work environment, and no one is immune to workplace tensions. When we come together to resolve conflict is when we solve some of our greatest problems and when we create some of our greatest solutions.

Handling and resolving conflicts is one of the biggest challenges that managers and their employees face, because it is (well) hard.  The way to handle this is not to ignore the situation or pretend that nothing is wrong.  The way to handle conflict is to have – what many people call – the “difficult conversation”.

Here are 5 tips to make your next difficult conversation as productive and stress-free as possible:

  • Don’t procrastinate.  In order to reach a productive outcome, you must first have the conversation.  When we have to do something that is outside our comfort zone, it is very tempting to simply put it off until “later”.  However, if you are waiting for the perfect time, that time will never come.  Perfection is something you make – not something you find. Stop procrastinating and talk. If it helps, set an appointment; they are harder to wiggle out off.
  • Remember that conversations are not about winning or losing. Conversations are not about beating the other person into submission.  They are not about winning.  When someone “wins” in a conversation, both people lose.  Difficult conversations should be about compromise and understanding; they should not turn into combative situations where the participants talk over one another, don’t listen and are only focused on making their own points.
  • Don’t rehearse.  People react better to conversations than they do speeches.  When you know things are going to be tough, it’s tempting to practice what you’re going to say ahead of time. However, that is how you prepare for a speech, which is a performance that is only focuses on getting points across. It is important to take the time to fully understand where you stand on an issue and be confident in your ability to express that understanding, but you do not need to practice your sentence structure and use of conjunctions.  You are having a conversation, which includes focusing on the other person.
  • Do not make any assumptions. Everyone – at one point or another – has made a bad assumption.  Don’t assume that you know where your employee/co-worker is “coming from” or what her intentions were or how she views the problem.  Instead focus on perspectives, achieving mutual understanding, compromise and solution-building.
  • Ask questions and paraphrase. Again, this is about communication.  In order to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion, everyone involved must be “on the same page”.  There have been many instances where participants have walked away from a conversation with a completely different understanding of what was said and decided.  One of the best ways to ensure that there is no confusion is to paraphrase what you hear and ask clarifying questions.  Solutions come much easier when everyone understands.

These are just a few suggestions of what I have found to be successful in the past.  What have your experiences been?  Have you found other strategies helpful when having a “difficult conversation”?  If so, I would love to hear about them and compare notes and ideas.  Comment below and let’s get a dialogue started.  If you like what you read, The Snelling Blog to your RSS feed.  I look forward to hearing from you!