Do you feel like a virgin when it comes to handling difficult conversations?

Do you feel like a virgin when it comes to handling difficult conversations?

Written by Professional Academy Management & Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

This month I've been reading Richard Branson's autobiography: Losing My Virginity. Having read it more than once it never fails to amaze me how many times he's put himself in challenging situations in order to achieve both personal and professional goals.

A combination of progression + trust + risk seems to underpin his winning formula. However, one aspect of his life that he struggles with is having difficult conversations. He describes a situation in his autobiography, in the early days of Virgin, where he needed to make some staff redundant. He passed the responsibility to someone else, as he simply wasn't comfortable having the conversation. Difficult conversations are a fact of life - both inside and outside of the workplace - here are six steps you can take to handle them more successfully.

Handling Dificult conversations

1) It's all in the mind - first of all, you'll need to get your head into the right mindset. If you're feeling anxious or scared then you won't be able to manage the conversation successfully. Take yourself to a quiet place and go back to the last time you felt confident and calm. See what you saw, hear what you heard and feel what you felt. Take this mental state with you when you have the difficult conversation.

2) Perfect timing - the next step is to choose a suitable time for the conversation. For example, don't schedule a conversation just before lunch when people are likely to become irritable.

3) Location, location, location - you'll also need to decide on a location for the conversation. Don't alienate people by inviting them into an environment that will make them feel uncomfortable, such as the boardroom.

4) Step into my shoes - to kick off the conversation, summarise the incident that has occurred and then ask the individual to 'sit in your shoes'. Ask them to pretend they are you and to talk through exactly what you're thinking and feeling. At this point the individual will usually not do what you've asked them to do and will defend their actions, so it's important for you to assert your original request i.e. to 'sit in your shoes'. Make sure you keep a calm tone and do not become aggressive.

5) Silence is golden - if the individual falls silent do not feel the need to fill the void. After a few moments they will begin to think about what it is like to be 'in your shoes' and will usually reflect on their actions objectively by saying things like: 'I should have followed the agreed process and got sign off on that piece of work before I sent it to the customer'. The individual is essentially having a difficult conversation with them self.

6) Lights, camera, action - once the individual has articulated all the points that are in your head you can respond by saying: 'Yes, that's exactly how I feel. How shall we resolve this for the future?’. At this point you can agree on an action plan to avoid the same situation in the future.

A word of caution, there is no 100% full proof method to handling difficult conversations. However, the process outlined above does work most of the time. Try it yourself and see.

If you need further advice you can contact me via LinkedIn

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