When people are asked how they generally deal with conflict, they often say that they try to avoid it. In fact, one poll revealed that more than 80% of workers are running in fear from at least one scary conversation at work—a conversation they know they need to have but are dreading. This statistic isn’t surprising given that most individuals think of conflict in negative terms. Yet avoidance strategies don’t make things better. In fact, they usually make the situation worse. Issues escalate, resentment grows, and eventually, people become disengaged.
Imagine you want to have a talk with your manager about a toxic co-worker. Or maybe you have someone on your team who isn’t pulling their weight. According to Jean-Francois Manzoni, professor of human resources and organizational development at INSEAD, the key is to learn how to handle these conversations in a way that produces “a better outcome: less pain for you, and less pain for the person you’re talking to.” Here are some ways to handle difficult conversations at work while also keeping your relationships intact.
Don’t wait to have difficult conversations at work
Difficult talks can become even more challenging the longer you wait. And over time, you can also build up anxiety that will make the problem worse. As Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said, “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.” So, get in the habit of delivering feedback regularly and address issues immediately as they arise.
Change your mindset
Rather than getting worked up beforehand, change your mindset. Think of it as just another normal office conversation. You should assume that the meeting will go well. Go in with a confident attitude and get to the point. By approaching the situation positively, the energy you bring will also be positive.
Practice having difficult conversations at work
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages her employees to have tough conversations at least once a week. Because she believes if you do not have them, you’re not growing. Having the tough talks forces companies to bring uncomfortable issues out into the open. And it can help businesses address them, especially when it comes to critical matters like workplace diversity and pay inequality.
It’s always a good idea to prepare for these difficult conversations at work beforehand. But don’t try to rehearse or create a script. Instead, write down three things you want to accomplish and focus on them. If you home in on the root of the problem right away, you lessen the probability of the conversation going in an unexpected direction.
Manage your emotions
Your goal is to have the conversation in an even tone and keep it professional. This technique is especially important when the meeting is with someone you work closely with. It can help if you look at things from a fact-based standpoint. When emotions start to take over, remind yourself that the more in control you are, the better you’ll be able to communicate the message.
Consider how the other person will feel during the conversation and give them time to process their emotions. Clearly explain why you’re having the meeting to help them fully understand your perspective. If you see them struggling, pause for a minute so they can gather their thoughts. If they start to get emotional, appreciate how they must be feeling and reassure them that you’re providing this feedback because you care.
The goal of having this conversation is to come up with a solution. If it isn’t clear from the beginning, work together to brainstorm ideas. Listen to the other person’s thoughts and bring some suggestions to the table as well. Once you reach an agreement, make sure there is an action plan in place moving forward.
Tough talks can be awkward and unpleasant. But they are inevitable. The key is to approach them with honesty and empathy. By following these strategies, you’ll be able to successfully navigate difficult conversations at work while growing your potential.