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How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work

If only every office chat could be about favorite sitcoms and YouTube videos. But part of being a professional is being able to deliver hard news—such as telling Chad he is terrible at his job and needs to shape up. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Rebecca Knight details how to survive and thrive in the uncomfortable conversations.

Discussions from the Dark Side

The goal of a difficult conversation—aside from relaying the necessary information—is to minimize the emotional damage done to the other party and to yourself. There are several ways to achieve this. First up, you can convince yourself that the conversation is not actually so bad. For instance, if you have to provide negative feedback to a subordinate, you can think of it in your mind as “correcting Chad’s behaviors so that he can excel.” Or if you cannot deliver the knockout results your boss was hoping to see, you can rationally work through why those results are unobtainable and provide an attractive and realistic alternative. A conversation that sounds gloomy on the surface does not have to be gloomy; it is really up to you (well, unless you have to fire a slacker, or the business is going under).

You can plan generally for what you would like to say in the discussion, but do keep it general—trying to prepare a “script” will be a debacle. In any case, it is good that you care enough about the other person’s feelings to want to broach the situation just right. Empathy is important. Knight says this about considering the other person’s perspective:

Don’t go into a difficult conversation with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. Before you broach the topic, [Holly Weeks, the author of Failure to Communicate,] recommends asking yourself two questions: “What is the problem? And, what does the other person think is the problem?” If you aren’t sure of the other person’s viewpoint, “acknowledge that you don’t know and ask,” she says. Show your counterpart “that you care,” says [Jean-Francois Manzoni, professor of human resources and organizational development at INSEAD]. “Express your interest in understanding how the other person feels,” and “take time to process the other person’s words and tone,” he adds. Once you hear it, look for overlap between your point of view and your counterpart’s.

As always, active listening will come into play (another reason why preparing a script will go so badly). If you talk slower, it will likely grant you and the other person more time to think through each other’s argument. So keep calm, hear each other out… and lay down the law.

You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2015/01/how-to-handle-difficult-conversations-at-work

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