Why Better Communication is the Key to Having Difficult Conversations

When you are having difficult conversations, how you communicate can make or break your chances of a successful outcome. Not every difficult conversation will go well, but there are some tips you can follow to improve the chances of having a successful outcome. Here’s why better communication is the key to having difficult conversations. 

Hello, I’m Nicola from The People Mentor, and in today’s podcast, I want to talk about communicating better during difficult conversations. 

Knowing what to say, what not to say, when to say it, and how to say it can be the difference between a difficult conversation going better than expected and damaging relationships and trust with your team members. 

So, how can you communicate better when you need to have a difficult conversation?

First, you need to be aware of exactly what could derail your attempts at a successful outcome. 

How do you feel, and how might this impact the situation?

Are you tired? Have you spent much of your day firefighting already, so you’re not in the best of moods to have a difficult conversation? Have you already mentally labelled the employee you need to speak to as difficult or confrontational? 

All of these will impact on how the situation plays out. 

Add to that the fact that if you need to talk about something particularly delicate or life-changing (such as you need to make them redundant), there’s a good chance that emotions will boil over, and you’ll have to deal with your team member’s fear, anxiety, anger, and distress, and of course, your own emotions. 

This all adds up to a potentially volatile situation, so knowing how to communicate well is essential. 

This is not always easy. When we find ourselves in a situation where we are being shouted at or where it’s obvious things aren’t going well, the principles we probably already know about what makes for good communication go out of the window. 

If you’re dealing with a team member you’ve already decided is difficult, do you listen to them or react and interrupt them? Do you get defensive and argumentative?

This kind of thing can send an already difficult situation spiralling out of control, with little chance of a positive outcome for anyone. 

Here are some tips on communicating better during difficult conversations to minimise the chances of this happening. 

Remain calm and listen: This can be tough if someone is angry and shouting, for example, but don’t be tempted to shout back. If you stay calm, it’s much more likely to defuse the situation, as it’s difficult to keep shouting at someone who is a calm presence. If the person you’re speaking to is shouting, don’t try to speak; wait until they have stopped. 

The next thing that is so important when you are having a difficult conversation is to acknowledge how the other person is feeling: Tell them you can see they are upset, anxious, or angry and ask for their take on the issue. Actively listen and don’t dismiss what they say, even if it’s not true or it’s unhelpful. It may be true for them. You don’t need to argue the point- remember that this doesn’t mean that you agree with what they say. You are just allowing them to say their piece, which they are entitled to do. 

Once you have let them air their views and concerns, acknowledge that you see things differently and you want to discuss how you can move forward. 

Say something like, “ We seem to have different views on this…” This is not saying that you are right and they are wrong; this is just a fact. 

Tell them that you’d like to work with them to find a solution or outcome that’s acceptable to you both.

It’s important to remember that when you are having difficult conversations, it can be as much about what you don’t say as the words you use. Be aware of your body language- avoid crossed arms or any other hostile gestures, maintain eye contact, and demonstrate that you are listening by nodding appropriately. 

No manager relishes difficult conversations, but you can learn from them and feel more confident dealing with them. It’s a good idea to reflect on a difficult conversation you’ve had. Try this. 

Think of a difficult conversation you had to have with an employee, or maybe it was your boss.

Ask yourself these questions.

And to help you a little bit more, here are some final words of wisdom about difficult conversations:

Remember that having feelings and emotions is normal and human, so don’t beat yourself up for letting your emotions get the better of you. If you recognise that, that’s the first step to improving things next time. 

When it comes to your team members, you can’t control how they will feel or react. All you can do is learn the best ways to handle difficult conversations and situations and apply them to improve the chance of a better outcome. 

One really important thing to do when you are having a difficult conversation is to show empathy. Don’t tell the other person you know how they feel because you don’t, but do put yourself in their shoes and treat them as you would want to be treated. 

Having difficult conversations is part of being a manager or leader. While not every difficult conversation will go well, you can improve the chances of a successful outcome by learning how to communicate better when you need to have these types of conversations. 

My advice? Stay professional, keep perspective, and be human! 

Do you feel like you need some support with having difficult conversations?

Are people disengaged, and is performance suffering? 

You know there are issues you need to get to the bottom of, and you admit that you’d love some help knowing how to approach the difficult things, but does the thought of spending money right now make you feel nervous?

If you don’t act, what will change for the better?

Investing in getting help will transform your team into one that’s more harmonious, better performing, productive, and profitable. Imagine having a great team who want to work together for the good of the business. 

It’s all possible. 

You can book a call with me to arrange a discovery call. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast, and I’ll see you next time.

This is The People Mentor signing off. 

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