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Conducting Difficult Conversations: Member Premium Webcast

Published Thu Jan 30 2014


When people anticipate a dialogue with a perceived negative outcome it causes them to feel anxiety or experience a negative emotional response. This type of dialogue is called a difficult conversation and it occurs whenever one person is in the position to provide feedback to a less than optimal scenario with another person.We have emotions and respond to criticism whether it is solicited or not. This leads to us thinking that we cannot experience emotions in the workplace and, worse, cannot express them. As a result we try to become inhuman, and start repressing our emotions. This resistance to expressing our emotions is part of what causes the difficult conversation.Difficult conversations can take place when giving feedback about poor performance, inappropriate behavior, personal hygiene, or inappropriate attire. You should approach the conversation differently depending on the scenario and the magnitude of the behavior or performance. Who you are talking to will also change the way you have the conversation. What is that person’s level in the organization and how does that relate to you? Is the person a superior, a colleague or peer, a direct report, or someone from another department or team? The most important thing to remember is that you need to avoid being confrontational, because that will just make a difficult situation even harder.Do you have a history with the individual? Is it coloring your observations? Past history could influence the actions you take or the words you use when providing feedback. Do not get into a difficult conversation on a whim, shooting from the hip. In other words, do not approach an individual to provide critical feedback based on your emotional response to your observations.Preparation is very important in a difficult conversation. What do you intend to get out of the difficult conversation? What is your desired outcome? You should also anticipate the possible outcomes and consequences of your conversation. How will it change your current relationship with that person? How will that person react? How will it affect that person’s self-confidence, productivity, and so on?

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