A Quick Guide to Handling Tough Workplace Conversations Resources

In business, as in life, certain conversations are really, really difficult. They’re so tough, in fact, that we tend to avoid them, act passive aggressively, or go in angry and defensive. According to career coach Ariane Hunter, None of these strategies foster effective communication, but luckily, there are ways to prepare for talks you’d rather not have.

In a terrific Live in the Grey post titled “How to Have Difficult Conversations at Work,”  Hunter shares four tips she’s picked up over the years. First up: Always chat in person. While email is a wonderful thing, it’s easy to misread tone or take comments out of context. Body language and tone of voice are essential parts of communication, Hunter says, and that’s why face-to-face interactions are always preferable.

Hunter’s second tip is to “check your intentions,” and this one is crucial. If you go into a conversation believing you’re right and the other person is wrong, and that it’s your way or the highway, you’re not going to get anywhere. The goals should be to “understand the other person” and “improve the relationship,” Hunter says, and that means putting aside the ol’ ego and showing some empathy. The idea should be to move forward with some kind of solution both parties can feel good about.

Next up: “Get centered before the talk.” If you know you’re the type of person who gets flustered or worked up during tense moments, hit the pause button, walk away, and clear your head. Or maybe you need to take a few moments before the conversation to calm down and collect your thoughts. Either way, don’t rush into the conversation or soldier through it when you feel yourself reaching a boiling point.

“Emotions can takeover leading to a total breakdown of the conversation and leave the situation completely unresolved,” Hunter writes.

Finally, Hunter suggests you step back, look at the big picture, and consider the other person’s point of view. Even if you think you’re on the right side of the argument, it’s possible the disagreement has to do with a communication breakdown that was your fault. Admitting (or even realizing) such things can be hard, so Hunter suggests talking to a third party with no vested interest in the outcome and having him or her weigh in.

“When you are willing to see the other person’s perspective, you learn what you can do to improve and move the relationship forward,” Hunter writes.

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