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BY Rochelle Sonnenberg

6 Tips For Getting Through A Difficult Work Conversation

By Rochelle Sonnenberg

difficult conversation at work

Photo credit: © anyaberkut / Adobe Stock

Many of us avoid having a difficult conversation at all costs — particularly while we're at work. Whether we're not big on confrontation or we're fearful of coming off as bossy, we sometimes feel paralyzed by the thought of broaching certain subjets in the workplace. But with the appropriate tools and preparation, we can empower ourselves to better navigate these challenging conversations.  

Below are some guidelines for handling these discussions:

1. Maintain self-awareness. It’s essential for us to be aware of environmental triggers that can cause us to have extreme reactions to a situation. For instance, as a person sensitive to anger, I typically get triggered by a person who’s raising their voice and behaving aggressively — even if that behavior is understandable or reasonable under the circumstances.

While some people’s first reaction may be to take that kind of behavior in stride, (or maybe even find humor in it!), my instinctive reaction is usually to disengage. When I’m aware that I’m being triggered, I have more room to calm myself and consciously evaluate what’s happening instead of reacting. In some situations, it’s also been helpful to let others know ahead of time that sometimes yelling can typically have an alienating effect on me.  

2. Begin from a place of curiosity. By starting immediately from a place of inquiry, I’ve been more likely to maintain a neutral attitude. I’ve then focused my energy on maintaining a genuine desire to hear the other person’s perspective. Afterwards, I’ve seen how we were able to resolve the conflict quicker because of a true interest in each others' perspectives.

3. Be clear on your agenda. Understand your ideal outcome so you can effectively communicate it. Before beginning the conversation, I’ve found it’s vital to be aware of my goals and objectives of the conversation. I was less likely to get distracted by my own emotions by having a clear direction of my wants and needs.  

4. Be mindful of your language. By practicing the following technique, we can have a stronger chance of creating a safe space to connect with our colleagues.   

Make sure to use “I statements” vs “you statements”. When I’ve approached a situation from my own perspective, I’ve seen how the other person is less likely to be defensive. For example, I recently had a miscommunication with a colleague. I made a conscious effort to use the phrase, “I’m not understanding your point” vs “you’re not making any sense”. I saw how the former statement allowed me to take greater ownership of my feelings. I also received the benefit of my colleague’s new ability to hear my side of the story.

5. Leave with a clear and concise plan of action. In order to for me to move forward in the right direction, it was essential to to have a commitment on both of our parts to be clear regarding our shared responsibilities to each other.

6. Lastly, always remember to be kind to yourself. Sometimes it may take several conversations to get your point across. I’ve seen as long as I’ve maintained an attitude of curiosity and patience, I was well on my way to successfully handling a difficult conversation.

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Rochelle Sonnenberg is a relationship development professional who specializes in forging and managing vital relationships with individuals, organizations and businesses to achieve organization goals. She currently is an organizer for two meetups, Courageous Conversations as an event series that assists professionals with their leadership skills and CMGR breakfast, an event series focused for community managers.

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