What does a difficult conversation mean to you? When was the last time you had a difficult conversation with your people at work? And how did you handle it?
The difficult conversation often relates to delivering unfavourable news or message. Poor performance, attitudinal change, layoff, denied promotion, change of working rules, turn down of a request, and many more, you name it.
It is more than just telling the news. The news you are telling can affect the person's emotional state, well-being or even disrupt his career advancement. If you have overlooked the human psychology aspect, you could end up with an unpleasant experience for both sides.
In the same context, if you bulldoze your way in the conversation, you are likely experiencing resistance, backfire, and possibly communication breakdown in the process.
Difficult conversation can be quite daunting and relationships damaging if it is not handled well. So, what is the best way to handle it?
Search around you will realise this is not a new topic. Books, journals, articles, and online reading materials all advocate different recommendations, strategies, and solutions for handling it. One of the interesting articles I have read recently is, Daisy Wademan Dowling on her HBR's article: HBR: 7 Tips for Difficult Conversation shares some useful tips that are worth trying. And some of these tips are indeed related to coaching skills.
Someone once said to me, coaching is not the sole approach used to handle difficult conversations. Agree. But, if you do it right, the coaching way, you will gain tremendous positive outcomes in the conversation.
The next time you have a difficult conversation to manage, try the following guides:
GUIDE #1: SET YOUR GOAL
Yes, it starts with the end in mind. Know what you want to achieve out of the conversation. Plan your communication strategy. Get to know what communication style will help you create positive outcomes in the conversation.
Ask yourself these few questions:
- 1What do I want to achieve by the end of the conversation?
- 2How will I know if I have achieved it?
- 3What will help me to create positive outcomes in the conversation?
- 4What will encourage him to receive the news and speak with an open heart?
- 5What do I need to watch out for in the conversation?
- 6What action do I want him to take after the conversation?
GUIDE #2: BUILD TRUST
In a difficult moment, people tend to seek out feeling safe, accepted and supported by others. Earn your trust no matter how close the relationship you have with the person. Show your genuine interest, validate thoughts and feelings, and give unbiased feedback. If you do them well, you are building a deeper level of trust with the person. And the effect is reciprocal.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- 1What are my unconscious biases?
- 2What do I need to do more so that he won't shut his mind?
- 3What is the best communication style to create an inclusive conversation?
- 4What will I do more to make this conversation easier?
- 5How can I stay non-judgmental and be unbiased in what I say?
- 6What behaviours or actions of mine will hurt the conversation?
GUIDE #3: MANAGE ACCOUNTABILITY
Many difficult conversations turn futile when emotions overpower everything in the process. The conversation stays fuzzy and heated. It ended with no conclusion of a concrete solution or forward action plans. If this happens, it will be good to end the conversation for the time being. Find another time to come back and continue the conversation again. But before you go for the second round, spare yourself some private time and evaluate what happened in the conversation.
Can it be the end goal (Guide #1) is still not clear to you and him? Or do you pay too much attention to wanting to achieve the outcome and fall short giving him space to express himself well? Or perhaps you were not assertive enough making your points clear, and unable to hold him take the responsibility seriously to implement the agreed-upon actions.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- 1What was really missing in the conversation?
- 2How will I do it differently next time?
- 3How can I hold his attention to what is important for him?
- 4What will I do to support him take action moving forward?
- 5What will encourage him to take the first step and do it?
- 6If it still does not work out well, what is my next course of action?
No one can predict how the actual conversation will be. But, if handled well, he will feel better by taking positive actions and moving forward after the conversation.
And the coaching approach is what you need to make the conversation easier and more beneficial to both sides. Having said that, knowing these techniques will only do good for your knowledge. It makes no difference to your ability to handle the conversation unless you apply and refine your skills of doing it.