A difficult conversation is any situation where the needs/wants, opinions or perceptions of the involved parties are diverse, with their feelings and emotions running strong. Usually the reason behind such strong feelings and emotions is that they have a lot at stake and they dread the consequences such as a conflict.

An individual’s ability to handle his emotions in such circumstances and convey information in an extremely sensitive manner is referred to as his skills of managing difficult conversations. Such conversations usually take place, and are required to be managed, one-to-one.

Why is managing a difficult conversation important

The skills of managing difficult conversation have become an integral part of the success of any employee, manager, department, and organizations as a whole. Avoiding such difficult conversations may bring about comfort in the short-term but it can cause a lasting damage to the business. This is because the resulting high-cost conflicts consume energy, destroy teamwork, and wipe out creativity.

However, when difficult conversations are managed well, difficult feedbacks are easily given and learning within an organization is made possible, productivity as well as collaboration are enhanced, stress is reduced for oneself as well as others to raise the morale consequently, and hence, better decisions are made. Most important of all, managing difficult conversations help us build and maintain healthy personal as well as work relationships.

How to improve the skills of managing difficult conversations

Difficult conversations have become an inevitable part of management. Therefore, there is a dire need for improving the skills to manage them. Following are some of the helpful tips to do so:

  • Begin by building bridges. Difficult conversations can very easily sabotage your working relationships if not managed sensitively and carefully. You must understand, therefore, that focusing on your differences with the other person will make the conflict seem bigger and may even discourage you from taking a step ahead. The best way is to build bridges first by emphasizing the points of agreement and the positive aspects of the relationship.
  • Do not procrastinate. If you have a difficult message to give to someone, do not procrastinate and leave the situation to fester. The passing time is unlikely to make it any easier to deal with. In fact, you will be wasting more time and energy by anticipating and worrying about the consequences. A better idea is to be proactive and plan how you will handle the situation.
  • Listen to others and learn. Often when we perceive the conversation to be difficult or fear how the other person will respond, we tend to be close-minded towards the goals of others, talking too much about our own perspectives. This is bound to confuse and irritate the other party, acting as fuel to the fire. The best approach, therefore, is to get the other person speaking early in the conversation, listen to him with an open mind, and learn.
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