Have you ever struggled over how to fire an employee? Have you procrastinated with telling a supplier what they did wrong on a project? Maybe you can’t come to terms with the fact that it’s time for you to step down. Getting worked up over difficult conversations—either with yourself or others—is a common setback. But there’s something you should know: Pussyfooting around isn’t helping you, your employees, or your business. Donna Flagg, president of The Krysalis Group and author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations, says that it's normal to struggle with topics such as terminating someone, asking for a raise, or talking about personal hygiene. Flagg has her own cheat sheet on how to deal with this affliction. Here she shares her seven tips on facing your fears and opening your mouth.
1. Avoid negotiating.
Avoid turning a decided conversation into a negotiation. If you’re asking for a raise, obviously negotiation is a valuable tool. However, in many other conversations it can distract from the ultimate goal of the talk. So if you sense the conversation moving into negotiation territory unnecessarily, simply say something such as “This is not a negotiation, I’m not doing that with you.” Or remind the person you’re talking with that they’re off-topic and that you need to move the conversation back to the actual issue. Stay focused, even if the person tries to stray out of embarrassment or as a defense mechanism to criticism.
2. Process your emotions like an adult.
If you’re emotionally intelligent you process your emotions like an adult, which is rationally. If you’re processing emotions like a child you’re out of control. And that’s the problem. The one thing I recommend that people can do, if you’re on the receiving end and you’re really upset, you should just take yourself with your emotions and go process them separately. You may want to take a boxing class or you may want to throw plates. Whatever you want to do, do it on your own and get it out because it’s yours. Then when you go and have a conversation with that person it’s very easy to say, “I’m very upset, I am very angry.” And then the person usually says, “I’m very sorry, I didn’t realize I had that effect on you.” And it’s not so crazy.
3. Stop sugarcoating.
I don’t believe in sugarcoating. I think that it’s misleading and that even in tone it sends the wrong message. The whole problem with sugarcoating is that it lacks sincerity on some level. And the other person can sense this. When someone is having to tell someone that they’re doing poorly or a manager has to draw an employee’s attention to something in those cases I think they’re much more apt to sugarcoat it because they feel like they’re going to make the person feel bad and they want to make the person feel good. And somehow that’s going to cancel it out or wash it away. You don’t need to paint a picture that’s not really there because of your inability to say what needs to be said. Instead, be human. Give them the credit to be able to take the information and digest it in a truthful way and then be there for them in a human way. Be kind, caring, sympathetic, and supportive of the person and help them through the difficulty they’re bound to have when faced with whatever information you’re going to give them.
4. Contain your nervousness.
Don’t get nervous and do all of the talking. Instead, allow there to be breath, allow there to be a pace and let the other person digest. When people get nervous they tend to try and talk through the awkward silence. And the awkward silence is actually very important. You don’t have to try and make the conversation better or more pleasant. What’s best is just say the truth and respect what the person is going through as a result. Don’t avoid the topic at hand during the conversation with small talk and not really getting to the point. It’s not bad to tell people what you think and how you feel. But to infuse your own personal life history into it makes no sense.
5. Be prepared to handle a ‘scene’.
If you’re afraid someone is going to get upset, let them get upset, it’s totally natural. You let them cry, have a box of tissues ready and you just hand it to them, let them have their moment and let them process it and just be silent. Because what you’re doing is you’re accompanying them through the pain and the embarrassment, and you’re allowing it and just letting it pass. If they cause a scene, then deal with it. If they start to make a scene you very quickly say, “Okay, this is completely inappropriate, we need to have a conversation. I understand you do not like what I have to say, however that doesn’t mean you can behave in a way that’s so out of control. So I’m going to give you an option right now: you can calm down or we can get a third party involved.” Because you have to be safe.
6. Always have backup.
If you’re really afraid of someone, have a third party there. Have security outside the door or someone who can help manage it if you’re really afraid. I’ve had a person launch themselves across the desk. And I knew it was going to happen so I had someone in the room with me.
7. Move on.
I’m a big believer in not making a big deal of things, getting it out, getting it over, and moving on. As loosely as we can generally speak, I think you have it and you leave it and you open the opportunity for things to improve, or you open the opportunity to change. I don’t think there’s any reason to revisit it unless there’s been no change and you need to fix it. The idea of involving anyone else or venting frustrations via social media makes me uncomfortable.
Want to learn more ways to have dreaded conversations? Join Donna Flagg and other seasoned female entrepreneurs on December 1 in New York City for our Inc. Women’s Summit. Visit www.incwomenssummit.com for more details.