7 Tips to prepare for difficult conversations

There are many reasons why people experience anxiety at the thought of confrontation or needing to have difficult conversations. Sometimes, it’s a fear of authority. Sometimes, it’s because people are socialised to believe that elders, whether at home or at work are not to be challenged. Sometimes, it’s because people don’t know how to have these conversations or how to articulate themselves and their concerns.

There is a belief that if you’re loud or boisterous or outspoken, you will be able to have difficult conversations with ease. Although there is a likelihood that you won’t shy away from confrontation if this is one of your personality traits, we should not assume that the difficult conversations will be effective/impactful.
The basic theory of communication is that the parties who participate in that communication exchange are required to send messages to each other, respond to each other and have an outcome at the end of the communication. Communication in the workplace is no different.

What makes difficult conversations create anxiety in people is the emotion that they they’re usually drenched in. You’re on high-alert, you feel aggrieved, you may be angry and you just want justice and sometimes, retribution.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about difficult conversations is that it is critical to define exactly what outcome you want from that conversation and how that can be achieved because this helps you ensure that you keep the conversation focused and productive. Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are 7 tips to help you prepare for your difficult conversation at work.

1. Clearly define and detail your issue/grievance. Prepare your evidence/supporting material.
2. Clearly articulate why you have that issue/grievance, how it impacts on you and your ability to do your job.
3. Identify the people whom you believe to be accountable for your issue/grievance.
4. Articulate how this person/these people have contributed to the situation, how it is incongruent with your agreed terms of employment, company values, HR policies, job description (or employee rights or rights to dignity, depending on what your specific issue is).
5. Articulate how you believe the matter can be resolved with your proposed timelines for resolution.
6. Indicate what escalation steps you will take should the matter not be resolved within the agreed timelines.
7. Confirm everything that was discussed in the meeting via email. Always cover your back.

When preparing for a difficult conversation, know that there is a high likelihood that you will be challenged, so have all your supporting documents/paper trails with you to back you up. Be as detailed as you can by including specific dates, events and contexts relevant to the discussion. Also know that there is a possibility that you will be attacked and/or threatened. A good way to prepare for any eventuality is to arm yourself with all the facts and be prepared. Practice presenting your case. Ask a friend or family member to role play different scenarios with you so that you’re able to navigate the real conversation successfully.


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