I’ve often described myself as allergic to drama and confrontation. I avoided voicing concerns, disappointments, or hurts with bosses, coworkers, friends, and family - because I was afraid of rocking the boat, leaving myself open and vulnerable, and creating a tension-filled situation.
But this approach ultimately caused me more stress and dissatisfaction, made me feel disempowered, and led to more passive-aggressive behaviors from me than I care to remember.
It’s all too easy to brush the proverbial dust under the rug and keep pretending that the growing mountain isn’t there. But eventually you can’t ignore it - and you’ve got a huge, overwhelming (dusty) problem to deal with.
Over the years, I’ve learned to be more comfortable with discussing uncomfortable topics - when the potential ROI is worth it.
In the workplace, according to Forbes Coaching Council,
“. . . avoiding difficult conversations can actually lead to dysfunction and lack of performance, which can ultimately have a negative impact on a team and the business as a whole. It is estimated that workplace conflict affects not only morale and productivity, but also turnover.”
So, let me help you navigate the intimidating waters of difficult conversations. Though the following advice is placed in the context of work, much of it can also easily be applied to your personal life.
Take A Breather
With all the advances in technology, we can undo or edit a lot of mistakes. But, we still can’t unsay words we’ve said to someone directly.
So, if you’re riled up, I’m all for taking time to cool down and avoiding saying or doing anything out of raw emotion that you’ll regret.
→ Aim to get yourself to a calm, objective place before you consider confronting someone. Here are some ways to help you get there:
- Take a walk.
- Do some breathing exercises and meditation.
- Write your thoughts and feelings down in a private journal.
- Write down the objective facts of what upsetting/concerning things happened/are happening.
- Try seeing through the other person’s eyes. Really attempt to understand what potential factors and intentions could be at play.
- Give the benefit of the doubt as much as possible.
- If necessary, talk with confidantes or a counselor about the situation and ask them to share their objective views.
- Be honest with yourself about whether or not this is an important issue that should be confronted - regardless of your desire to or not.
- When you’ve decided that you need to have a serious discussion with someone, you should move right into the planning phase.
Don’t Put It Off For Too Long
While it’s important to take some time to really think things through and get a healthy perspective, don’t wait too long to bring up an important issue.
- Waiting too long can make it easier to brush things under the rug and lose your nerve.
- If you wait too long before getting something important off your chest, you could end up stewing in a toxic mix of negative emotions - which can distort your perspective, cause you more stress, and lead to a less-objective and effective meeting.
Have the right mindset
As they say, “Attitude is everything.” It can make or break a situation and profoundly affect your life. So, make sure to adopt the right one for these types of discussions.
- Focus on wanting to learn, problem-solve, and create value for both of you, and your company.
- Don’t focus on winning or being right. That’s a recipe for disaster and wasted energy and time.
- Prepare to step into the conversation with objectivity, patience, compassion, and a willingness to take responsibility for anything you should.
- Be clear with yourself about what you’re hoping to get out of the conversation.
“I really want to understand this situation from different angles, so we can come to a solution that’ll help us learn and grow, and make our team and company more successful.”
Be Respectful, Vulnerable, and Direct
According to Harvard Business Review, “Genuine respect and vulnerability typically produce more of the same: mutual respect and shared vulnerability. Even when the subject matter is difficult, conversations can remain mutually supportive. Respect the other person’s point of view, and expect them to respect yours.”
- Honest, respectful conversations lead to healthier, more positive relationships - regardless of the subject matter.
- Pay attention to what the other person is saying, focus on being a good listener, and avoid interrupting them.
Communicate Clearly and Objectively
It’s important to deliver your message in a way that’s easy to understand and based on the facts.
- When you seem calm and objective, the other person is more likely to be receptive to your words.
- Use specific examples when supporting a point.
- Stay focused on the discussion topic at hand.
- Remember to stay professional throughout your discussion.
“During team meetings, I feel that my input isn’t valued as much as that from others. For instance, during today’s team meeting, I tried to participate in the conversation, but you spoke over me several times, while you rarely did that to others.
I’m not assuming that any of this was intentional. But, I want to be honest about what I observed and how it made me feel. I want to grow and contribute a lot to this team. And I can do that better when I feel comfortable and equally respected when sharing my thoughts and ideas.”
End On A Good Note
After all’s said and done, it’s best to tie everything up in the most positive way possible.
- Thank the other person for taking the time to discuss this issue with you and for being open and honest.
- State your appreciation for the positive things that resulted from your conversation, including learning and growing from it.
- Make sure to personally reflect on the ways in which this situation can help you be a better manager, colleague, employee, and person.
“Thank you, Jane, for being open to discussing this issue with me and for taking the time to listen, share your feedback, and work on solutions. I’m glad we were able to have an open, honest discussion and come up with a plan for clearer, more effective communication between us. I learned a lot from our talk, and am glad I can better understand your perspective and better support you as a team member.”