According to workplace resource startup Bravely, 70 percent of employees are avoiding difficult conversations with their boss, colleagues, and direct reports. 

Whether it's due to the fear of retaliation, a negative effect on the relationship, or a lack of training, an overwhelming amount of people are avoiding tough conversations--and the fallout isn't pretty.

For managers, willingness to directly discuss performance feedback, compensation, and behavioral issues is critical to your team's success. For employees, the ability to broach difficult topics allows you to address disappointments and misaligned expectations before they become larger issues. 

Regardless of your position or situation, here's a quick guide to tackling tough conversations. 

Don't wait too long. 

The longer you wait to address a difficult situation, the more emotionally charged it will become. When you start to notice a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed, it's important to say something before you, or the other person hits a point of "no return."

"I'll wait until it happens again," or "I'll address it next time" is an easy trap to fall into that prevents you from taking action. While procrastinating, assumptions get made, and larger cases get built. Plus, you're killing your productivity by stewing over the issue. 

If you can get into a habit of discussing issues shortly after they happen, the conversations will be easier to tackle. 

Prepare don't plan.  

Hate to break it to you, but difficult situations will never go according to plan. Even if they did, no one likes being a part of a scripted conversation--it feels forced and insincere.

Instead, focus on major themes and goals for the conversation. For example, why did the "behavior" affect you in the first place, what do you want to see change, and what are your main goals for having a conversation?

Prepare for certain reactions. By considering the other person's perspective, you can mitigate the likelihood of triggering unwanted responses and escalating emotions--which can hijack a conversation. 

Communicate the benefits of addressing the issue. More importantly, find a mutual or team benefit. I often hear of situations where managers are frustrated because their employees won't raise their hands for more work. Voicing that concern with an employee might sound like: "Your development is important to me. Leading additional projects and increasing your level of contribution to the team would accelerate your progression."  

Set the tone. 

We avoid difficult conversations because of the awkwardness and uncomfortable nature of the situation. However, if you're intentional about setting the right tone, the chances of a positive outcome increase. The difficult conversation gets easier.

Preface your meeting or conversation with a positive tone. A manager once kicked off a coaching conversation with me by saying, "I value our relationship and want to discuss an idea that could help us work more effectively." The other person needs to feel like you're coming from a good place, so constructive feedback can sink in.

Take some responsibility. Whether your expectations were unfair from the start, or there was miscommunication, it's always a two-way street. Say something like, "I'm sorry that I've had a negative attitude lately. I've been dealing with some frustrations, and it's unfair for me to take it out on you/the team." Or, "I apologize for not clarifying my expectations sooner. My workload is no excuse."

Show that you're focused on the future.

Focus on future behavior rather than past mistakes. It's counter-productive to harp on things that can't change. State the issue, then start discussing ways to craft a solution so the other person knows you're committed to a resolution.

In cases of performance issues, try something like this: "I noticed that you missed the last two deadlines, what can we do to ensure this doesn't happen again?" This allows you to co-create a solution. The chances of behavioral change increase when both parties weigh in.

Use "I" statements. They prevent the other person from shifting the blame or minimizing the severity, and they clarify the impact of the person's behavior. Often, others don't realize the how their actions affect others.

Lastly, make sure that you follow through and implement your action plan. Work together, hold each other accountable, and track progress. If handled correctly, difficult conversations can have a positive impact on relationships.

Whenever we try to avoid difficult situations, we short-circuit the process, stunt our growth, and further complicate the relationship. Using this simple framework will help you turn difficult conversations into positive outcomes.

Published on: Aug 22, 2018