We’ve all felt it – that knot of dread as we prepare to tell someone something that we’re certain they won’t want to hear.
By their very nature, difficult conversations will never be easy, but there are ways to ease the burden for all involved.
Here are my 5 top tips for making difficult conversations less daunting.
1. Keep an open mind
By going into a certain situation expecting a particular response, we can inadvertently make that outcome more likely to happen. It’s a bit like expecting to fail an exam – the more convinced we are that we will fail, the less motivated we become, the less effort we put in, and the more likely we are to achieve a lower score.
By assuming that the other person will react to the information we are about to give them in a particular way, it’s possible that our words and our body language will prompt them to do so. We cannot know everything that is going on in their life, so we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what the information will mean to them. Even something as seemingly negative as redundancy could actually be the opportunity they’ve longed for to pursue their dream career. We don’t know, so we shouldn’t assume.
Keeping an open mind generates a more open conversation and a more honest exchange.
2. Be honest
It can be tempting to sugar-coat bad news, or to try and ‘spin’ the information to make it seem more palatable. Whilst there is nothing wrong with trying to protect the other person’s feelings, honesty really is the best policy.
If it really is bad news there will be very little you can do with words to make the situation better. Instead, present the facts as objectively and diplomatically as you can, and offer practical support if you are able to do so.
3. Don’t dawdle
There is nothing worse than hearing a rumour about something that affects you, before you have been told anything officially. Don’t put off a difficult conversation for any longer than is necessary for you to gather the facts and arrange an appropriate opportunity to talk with those concerned.
Remember that rumours can often be far worse than the truth, and attempting to refute misinformation can be much harder than being upfront with someone to start with.
4. Explain what happens next
Dependent upon the situation, this could be very straightforward or very complex, but it is important that you set out what will happen next. This is your opportunity to set expectations and put things into context. This allows the recipient to see beyond the conversation and understand how it will affect them.
5. Invite questions
No matter how well prepared you are, the chances are that the person you are talking with will have thought of a question you had not considered. If you know the answer, say it there and then, but if not, make a note and commit to finding out the information for them.
Bonus tip – stay calm
Difficult conversations are unlikely to become something you look forward to, but whether in a personal or professional capacity, they are bound to happen. Using my tips above will help you to feel more prepared and less daunted next time you find yourself or someone else uttering the phrase ‘we need to talk’.