How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. But contrary to popular belief, not all conflict is bad. Sometimes when we embrace difficult conversations at work, it’s an opportunity to grow, innovate, and even strengthen your relationships with your colleagues. One of the most important things on how to handle difficult conversations at work is remembering the power of taking a pause before you react or respond to a situation. Ultimately, you can’t control how people react, but you always have the power to choose your response.

Dealing with Difficult Conversations at Work

Friendly reminder — not everything deserves a reaction or even a response. You can either step into conflict or step away from it; the choice is always yours. Embracing your power of pause also enables you to:

-Take a few deep breaths or walk away from the situation.

– Refrain from judgment and do a quick self-check.

-Gather your thoughts so you can ask a few clarifying questions.

-Consider the other person’s perspectives or objectives.

Think Conversation, Not Confrontation. 

Once you decide that a discussion is needed, here are a few tips to help you prepare for a difficult conversation:

Silence the noise, get rid of distractions and do a quick self-check on the story you are telling yourself.

At any given moment, we have a gazillion stories going on in our head — especially when we’re in the middle of a conflict. The biggest mistake we make is reacting off of a story we’ve told ourselves about a person or situation. Many times, we’re assuming, overthinking, and even playing out scenarios that may be true or false.   

Seek facts before feelings.

Ask yourself:

-What evidence do I have to support this story?

-Are you feeding the stories in your head based off of your past experiences? What else it could it be? Self-awareness is key: How have you contributed to the problem?

-What is your purpose for having the conversation?

-What do you want to avoid?

-Why is it important to have this conversation right now?

-What do you hope to accomplish?

-Describe your ideal outcome?

-What is the common ground or mutual interest that you both share?

Prepare to have a discussion and approach the discussion from a place of curiosity.

Starting from a place of curiosity (e.g., give a person the benefit of the doubt) helps to rebuild trust with someone who may have hurt you. Plus, it helps to create a mutual understanding about finding solutions which benefit the both of you. Also, take a few moments to imagine you don’t know anything about this person or situation. Sometimes this can help you see things from another person’s perspective and assess their needs at the time.

Watch your tone and be aware of your verbal and non-verbal communication.

For instance, typing on your computer or scrolling through emails or your social media feed while speaking to someone, sends the message that you don ‘t value a person’s time or what they have to say. 

Strive to ask more open-ended questions. Here are a few examples:

I’d really like us to get to a place where we can ______________ and avoid__________. When ___________ occurred, I felt like _____________. Can you help me understand why (describe the problem and the outcome) ________________. Take note, the more you show interest in learning about the other person’s perspectives the better chance you have at reaching a positive outcome and mutual agreement. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to agree, but validating that their views are just as important as yours sets the tone for respect and a new way ahead.

I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about ___________. I value you as ___________so I really want to hear your feelings about this and share my perspective as well. What are your thoughts about _________?

I notice we have different views about _____________________. So, I’d like to hear your thoughts about____________ .What challenges are you having with____________? What part of__________ makes you uncomfortable? How can we work more effectively as a team?

If we considered __________, what does success look like for you? What are the top two things you’d like to see from me?

To make sure you understand the person correctly, restate what has been said—this also sends the message that you’re actively listening to them.

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