3 Tips to Keep Difficult Conversations on Track

SkyeTeam leadership development

Many people I know and work with will do anything to avoid difficult conversations. Usually it’s because we fear strong emotions might get triggered and we’ll end up ruining a relationship.

That fear is genuine and real. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever experienced an emotional hijacking – a sudden flare of strong emotions coming from the brain’s amygdala that derails any plans you had for a mutually satisfying outcome.

Rebecca Knight, in an article in Harvard Business Review, gives us pointers on getting what you need from the most challenging conversations to still keep relationships intact.

  1. Change your mindset: If you’re gearing up for a conversation you’ve labeled “difficult,” you’re more likely to feel nervous about it beforehand. Instead, try framing it in a positive way. For example, instead of giving negative performance feedback you’re going to have a constructive conversation about development. You’re not telling your boss “no,” you’re offering up an alternate solution. A difficult conversation tends to go best when you think about it as a normal discussion.
  2. Breathe: The calmer one is, the better one can handle difficult conversations. Take regular breaks and breathe mindfully to refocus. This technique works well in the heat of the moment. If, for example, a colleague comes to you with an issue that might lead to a hard conversation, excuse yourself — get a cup of coffee or take a brief stroll — and collect your thoughts.
  3. Plan, but don’t script: To plan what you want to say, jot down notes and key points before the conversation. Drafting a script, however, is a waste of time. Your strategy for the conversation should be flexible and contain a repertoire of possible responses. Aim for language that is simple, clear, direct, and neutral.

Sometimes emotions can get the best of us, but with a little awareness and preparation, you can avoid the risk.

What sort of preparation do you find helpful for difficult conversations? I’d love to hear from you.