How to Have Difficult Conversations at Work

Man and woman communicating at work.

Talking to the other person in a considerate manner always eases the communication.

This article was written in response to a journalist’s query: Have you ever had a difficult conversation at work?

Confrontation, done right, is effective.

Yes! Multiple times. In both roles – as an employee and as a boss. I have NEVER shied away from being honest or explicit, but I am and was always tactful. Since childhood, I have believed the best way to handle something is to confront it head on. Although I have lived in different countries (i.e., Japan), directly addressing an issue has always worked, although there may be more “pleasantries” required upfront in different cultures.

Honesty and clarity are critical.

Early on in my career, I learned that if you are not honest or explicit, the other person may not fully understand what you were trying to communicate! You may have thought you were clear, but you later realize the other person completely missed what you attempted to communicate. I observed a couple of supervisors and managers encounter this issue. My takeaway is the following: Be very clear. Be really, genuinely respectful of the other person. Restate what you said, and restate what you think the other person said. In addition, have the other person restate what he/she thought you said. Do this a few times throughout a long conversation but only once in a brief conversation. The restatements should include both the problem / issue and the resolution you both agreed upon.

Do not practice avoidance!

Difficult discussions are not to be avoided. Having them as soon as possible after the issue/problem arises and doing so in a respectful manner not only typically quickly resolves the issue but also builds a stronger team.

Have you had difficult conversations? Or have you avoided them and had the avoidance back fire…or maybe you waited and watched and things worked out on their own? Whatever the experience, please share in the comments below.