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Tuesday Tips: The Difficult Conversation

We all dread it. Whether you are letting a friend know that you were hurt by something she said or telling a co-worker about a client problem — the “difficult conversation” is stressful for all parties. Although there are endless scenarios that get you there, the facts remain the same — at one point or another, you’ll have to sit down and have a talk that you don’t really want to have.

In the business world, where professional relationships are at risk, there are some steps to take to make the conversation not just less painful, but positive and productive. Here are some ways to make the difficult conversation a little easier:

Time is of the essence. Don’t delay. Gather your thoughts and address the situation. If you wait, you may never have the conversation. Or, you run the risk of word getting out through the grapevine, and that can be damaging in more ways than one.

Set a goal for the conversation. Decide in advance what you’d like to outcome to be, whether a simple apology, different behavior in the future, or a different working relationship.

Be professional. Set a time and date to have the conversation. Be thoughtful about location, seating, and body language. Think through all possible responses and reactions.

Come prepared. Write down bullet points for yourself and select constructive language. You’ll be more confident and can leave the conversation knowing you conveyed what’s most important.

Be constructive/avoid negative terms. Don’t try to sugar-coat the news, but use neutral or positive language where possible.

Avoid the blame game. You likely won’t have a constructive (and productive) conversation if blame is being tossed around; to defuse defensiveness, try to focus on the future.

Move on. Don’t harp. It’s over now.

Had a difficult conversation lately? What do you do to make it easier?

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