How To Have Difficult Conversations, Part II

How To Have Difficult Conversations, Part II

This is Part II of a two-part blog post series. See Part I here.

In my last post on the topic, I described best practices for having “difficult” conversations (e.g., potentially negative feedback or a message about something not going ideally and needing re-direction), Steps 1 (set the scene) and 2 (preparation). Here I’ll go into Steps 3 and 4.

Step 3: Have the conversation.

When? Do it in the morning if you can. Why do you think that is? 😊

I’d say that most people have a bit more energy in the morning (at least mid-morning), have more mental resources available and perhaps fewer distractions as the day is just getting started. You may also want to “eat the frog” of having this discussion early on instead of feeling like you might be putting it off.

What about where? Have the talk in person if possible, with privacy, not when the other person is upset, and with enough time to spare before other activities (so leave a buffer). Even though you may have a solution in mind, don’t rush a resolution because there may have to be some “digesting” happening.

I repeat, don’t rush a resolution. There may need to be a series of discussions. But please open the topic.

Show empathy and genuinely care. Remember that meaningful communication is two-way. It’s a dialogue, a conversation. You want your message to be received, and… stay curious and ask questions too. Listen.

Make sure it’s safe for mistakes to be discussed, above all. You’re talking about a situation, not making a judgement of their virtue or worth or goodness as a person. Don’t take what they say personally either.

Make sure they know they’re still in the tribe no matter what. Right? It’s important to humans to belong.

Pay attention to the feeling in the room (including your own stress level). If things get confusing, clarify what you intend and don’t intend. Come back to common ground as needed. And you may decide to pause the conversation and continue another day, which is fine, but try to do it with some temporary closure if so.

Explore possibilities, establish some rules going forward (including giving them examples of what you want), agree on a plan, actions, timelines and follow-up.

Step 4: Follow up!

The feedback conversation was not a one and done, never to be spoken of again. You’ll need to revisit the topic. Meaningful change has to happen, or you and the company lose credibility.

And importantly, they need to have the tools and resources to succeed. Set them up to succeed!!

Make sure milestones are set in advance and follow them no matter what. Recognise and celebrate small steps and incremental progress.

In fact, everyone involved (including you) may need to adapt too. This could be a win-win situation. You could end up with better processes, more creativity, more engagement, more collaboration and more connection.

Remember to build and maintain an open feedback culture where everyone is communicating openly and frequently. This will prevent a lot of headaches.

Lastly, if you find yourself really nervous about these kinds of conversations, even after you have some experience with them, try to feel into what’s going on with you, identify what your triggers are in the situation and what’s making you uncomfortable specifically.

Are you afraid to be seen as a “bad guy/gal”? Do you think you’re going to mess it up? Do you feel a little hypocritical? How do you feel about feedback in general? Does it have a negative image for you? And what are your tendencies?

Yes, you want to be clear, specific and unambiguous in your communications. But you know you’ll also be listening a lot and asking lots of questions, so take some pressure off yourself. It isn’t a performance.

If you create safety and prepare well, with authenticity, and have a little courage, there will be gains no matter what. Feedback with pure intentions is much better than silence.

Give these tips a try and let me know how it goes!