How to Successfully Navigate Difficult Conversations at Work

How to Successfully Navigate Difficult Conversations at Work

June 14, 2018 by Stella Petrou Concha

Chances are you’ve probably had your fair share of difficult conversations in your personal and professional life. We’d all love to avoid them, but they are necessary in situations where both parties have opposing views and a resolution needs to be found. The more important the issue, the more difficult they are. The stakes are high, and emotions can get in the way.

However, when you approach these conversations with a healthy motive, it becomes much easier. Plus, the chances of finding a mutually beneficial outcome greatly increases. So how do you know if your motivations are healthy? And why is it so important? Here we’ll share 3 simple steps to starting your difficult conversations from the right place, so you can successfully navigate to an ideal resolution.


Understanding Your Motives

Being clear on your motives for wanting the conversation from the get-go is a must. When your motives are healthy, the conversation will be open and productive. On the other hand, if your motives are unhealthy, the other party will pick that up, and will likely become defensive and closed off.

When you’re looking for a positive resolution for all involved, you’re setting the right tone with a positive motive. But if your motivations are to win an argument, or prove someone wrong, you’re starting from a negative place and the chances of ending the conversation with a positive result is slim. To steer yourself on the right path, start with a curious outlook. Maybe there’s a very good reason your team leader’s performance has slipped? Could there be something happening at home that is having an impact? And maybe your manager has just been to busy to review your salary, and does value the work you put in? Keeping an open mind helps you avoid selfish motives and gives you the best chance of negotiating a win-win.


If your motivations are to win an argument or prove
someone wrong, you’re starting from a negative place
and the chances of ending the conversation with a
positive result 
is slim


Keep the Focus on What You Want

It’s one thing to feel confident about your motives before you start a dialogue, but in the heat of the moment it’s easy to slip into a negative or defensive mindset if the conversation doesn’t go as planned. If you feel yourself firing up or shutting off, get yourself back on track by re-focusing on your motives.

Think back to what you really want – for yourself and the other party. If a team member’s performance has slipped, are you trying to find ways to support them and get them back on track? Or are you looking for an excuse to let them go? The best outcome is always a mutually beneficial one, and when this is the source of your motivation, you give yourself the best chance of finding an ideal resolution to any issue.


Don’t Be Forced into a Bad Decision

During your conversation, watch for signs that you are slipping into a mentality where you feel like you’re being given an ultimatum and you must make a choice. Perhaps it has not be verbally spoken, but you get the feeling it is expected. Whether the ultimatum is real or imagined, don’t fall for it. Ignore the pressure to choose from option A or B if neither solves your problem.

For example, if you approach your boss about a pay increase, and the offer is less than you feel you’re worth, what do you do? You may feel you only have two options: accept the lower amount or look for a new job. But things are rarely this black and white, and there is always another choice if you look hard enough. Maybe you could accept it, but suggest a review in 3 months? This gives you time to prove your worth and think clearly about your options. Too often we feel backed into a corner and make bad decisions. But when you keep your original motives at the front of your mind, you’ll be clear on what you do and don’t want and won’t settle for less.


Start from a Positive Place for the Best Results

One of the most effective ways to improve your dialogue is to remember that the only person you can directly control is yourself – and this means it is always possible to start from a positive place. When you focus on your own healthy motives throughout the conversation you’ll be guided in the right direction, towards a good outcome for all.

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