10 Surprising Things You Probably Don’t Know About Difficult Conversations

No matter how long you’ve been a manager, you’ll always be thrown a curveball. Often it comes in the form of difficult conversations. Even if you’ve had 100s of them (I know I have), you can still get stuck. There’s always more to learn.

Here are 10 things you probably don’t know about difficult conversations.

A Difficult Conversation is Not a Battle

One of the main reasons difficult conversations go wrong is we treat them like a battle. Something that has to be won. The truth is, when you go into conversations with this mindset, there are no winners. People get upset and storm off. They clam up. The issue remains unresolved. It’s far better to go in prepared with a strategy to keep things productive.

Difficult Conversations Aren’t as Simple as You Try to Make Them  

Say you need to have a conversation with a team member who’s been coming in late. You’ve already decided that they’re lazy and not pulling their weight. It might be that simple. But it probably isn’t. Ask yourself this. If the situation was as simple as all that, why does it feel hard to talk about? Dig deeper and 9 times out of 10, there’ll be something else going on.

Respect is a Big Part of it All

Respect is a big part of difficult conversations. First, you need to respect the fact that there’s an issue you need to resolve. Then, you need to respect the other person. Lastly, there’s one thing we often forget. We need to respect ourselves. That means checking in with yourself and your responses. If you could watch a video back of your conduct, would you feel proud of how you dealt with things? Respect for yourself and the other person can also mean ending the conversation if it feels unsafe.

The Outcome We Want is Often in the Middle Ground

Difficult conversations can be a rollercoaster of emotions. You might veer from annoyed to defensive and fearful. The other person might do the same. That’s why there’s a need to manage your own emotions. Steer clear of the extremes. Lashing out won’t get you anywhere and neither will trying too hard to appease someone. You’ll get the outcome you want if you move to the middle ground. Be open, honest, direct, and fair. Difficult emotions won’t disappear, but stick to these principles and focus on what you want.

You Don’t Always Need to React

There are many different ways that the other person can respond to the conversation you’re having with them. They might try to lie their way out of it. They might start crying or shouting at you. They could go deathly silent. This can make you feel deeply uncomfortable. However, the good news is, you don’t have to react. If you start acting the same as the other person, it will be counterproductive. Instead, respond to their behaviour, don’t react. For example, say they’ve completely shut down and they aren’t speaking to you. Try saying, “ I’m not sure what to make of you being silent.”

We All Have Our Buttons, and People Will Know How to Push Them

When we have difficult conversations with someone, they can feel angry or hurt. They can lash out by saying something that triggers us. The key to feeling calm and in control is to work out what your triggers are.

Say that a team member accuses you of doing nothing to support them. You feel irritated because you could write a list of times you have gone above and beyond for them. You pride yourself on being a supportive boss. It’s hard to not react in the moment. But try to rationalise it. Is there any truth to what they’re saying? Weigh up the evidence. They are angry, hurt, and just lashing out. You’ve done a lot to help this person. Where you go from here is to ask them why they don’t feel supported.

Difficult Conversations Don’t Come with a Script

While it’s good to feel prepared for a tough conversation, you can never know how it’s going to go. There are definitely strategies you can use, but don’t try to ‘script’ the conversation. Instead, before you go in, think about:

What the issue is;

What might the other person’s view of the issue be?;

What would be the best outcome for you?;

Ask the other person to ponder these questions before the meeting too.

You Don’t Know The Other Person’s Feelings and Intentions

Do you think that a difficult conversation is just the result of a misunderstanding that can be easily sorted out? Or do you think that they are often thinly veiled attacks on someone else? Neither person in a difficult conversation can really know what the other is thinking. That’s why it’s your job to bring things out into the open.

For example, if you really aren’t getting the other person’s perspective on the issue, say so. It can really help clear things up and pave the way for a solution.

It’s All Too Easy to Lose Sight of The Point

With difficult conversations, it can be easy to get lost in emotions and reactions. Sometimes, we lose sight of the outcome we want to achieve. You can avoid this by deciding on a clear desired outcome before you go into the conversation. It’s also helpful to have some strategies that will help you tackle any obstacles along the way.

You Don’t Have to Deal with Difficult Conversations Alone

This brings me nicely to my last point. Not many managers relish difficult conversations. In fact, many try to actively avoid them which only makes problems worse down the line. But when it comes to tough conversations, you don’t have to go it alone.

Do you feel out of your depth with difficult conversations?

Do you know there are issues that need to be addressed but you’ve been avoiding them?

My ‘Making Difficult Conversations Easier’ programme for managers and leaders will give you the confidence and strategies to have difficult conversations and build engagement to create an open, honest, and high-performing team.

Imagine having a team where nobody is scared to speak up about something;

Where performance is at an all-time high;

Where people are productive and engaged, and the business is profitable;

Imagine that everyone wants to work together for the good of the business and no issue is insurmountable.

It’s all possible.

Get in touch to book a call.

Leave a comment