How To Handle Difficult Conversations In The Workplace

By Connor Barry on April 4, 2022

Key Points:

  • Facing challenges in the workplace leads to personal growth.
  • Handling difficult conversations in the workplace need to be handled in the right setting and mindset.
  • Leading the discussion requires respect for others and listening to their perspective.

Most people dislike having difficult conversations with someone, especially in the workplace. In fact, “8 out of 10 employees are running in fear from a scary conversation at work” (Crucial Learning). However, avoiding a conversation that needs to happen can often worsen.

Facing challenges in the workplace gives you space for personal growth and allows you to navigate future challenging conversations comfortably in the future. For instance, this could mean you’ll feel more comfortable discussing the pay raise you deserve, or leadership members in your office will notice how you face challenges and see another reason you deserve a promotion.

Below you’ll find seven steps to guide you through the process of handling difficult conversations in the workplace.

1. Before the conversation, be sure that you have had time to thoroughly think of the issue at hand and think from the other parties’ side. If you feel like the words, actions, and emotions were not valid at the time, it’s time to have a conversation.

2. Harassment, discrimination, or lack of respect should never be accepted into the office, and therefore, it’s crucial to have a conversation. In situations like this, discuss the problem ahead of time with human resources and request their presence during the meeting. By having a member of human resources present, they can be a third-party witness to confirm the conversation and assist during the conversation if needed.

3. Preparation is critical before a difficult conversation. Preparation can look different for everyone and is dependent on the conversation. Often when we prepare for the discussion, we rehearse the conversation. However, rehearsing a conversation can backfire if you aren’t correctly ready to listen to the other individual’s side. It’s best to remember that the discussion shouldn’t be a monologue, and both parties should have time to discuss the topic at hand and listen to the other. On the other hand, if the meeting requires details, it’s best to collect all the information before the conversation to share. For instance, if you’re looking to have a conversation with your boss about a promotion or pay raise, make sure to come to the discussion with examples to share.

4. Find the appropriate setting. The setting should match how formal or serious the conversation is. Otherwise, find a neutral area like a coffee shop to discuss less serious conversations to keep both parties at ease.

5. You can table the conversation and resume later if emotions run high. The more both parties can regulate their emotions, the better they understand each other and find a solution. To find a solution, both individuals must be respectful and intentional. If you sense that the conversation isn’t progressing positively, ask to reschedule after both of you have had time to decompress.

6. After the conversation, take time for yourself. Difficult conversations take an emotional toll on us, no matter how small or big the talk is. So, if you can, step away from the area and take time to destress.

7. The final step is to reflect and learn. Of course, facing challenges takes bravery, but we can all take time to reflect and see where there’s room for improvement.

While every situation is unique, the steps above can help you navigate even the most challenging conversations. It takes bravery to confront a difficult discussion that needs to happen, and you can count every step as a sign of progression. For more advice in the workplace, check out our blog posts here.

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