Bite the Bullet: Time to Have that Uncomfortable Conversation

15 January, 2024

Communicating effectively is easier said than done - especially in the workplace. Conversations addressing serious issues, giving warnings or even a notice of termination can be disconcerting to initiate. As difficult conversations are inevitable, it is better to go into it with some preparation and handy tips.

1. Don’t Avoid it

  • Although human beings have a ‘fight or flight’ response to uncomfortable encounters, it is important not to run away from the conversation. 
  • To keep yourself from procrastinating the conversation, be sure to schedule the meeting ahead of time. 
  • This way, you will be required to carry out the conversation when the time comes.

2. Keep your Talking Points ready

  • While scripting an entire conversation is not the way to go, it is important to have clarity on what you wish to address and accomplish during the conversation.
  • If it helps, keep a list of all the topics you wish to discuss during the meeting. This will ensure that the objective of the conversation is not buried under other points. 
  • Do be prepared to steer the conversation back to the objective when it inevitably veers towards unrelated points.

3. Reframe your Mindset

  • Although we tend to pre-emptively classify the conversation as ‘difficult’, it is always possible that the meeting goes better than anticipated. 
  • Reframing your mindset to be more positive, or at the very least more open, can help take the stress off the conversation. 
  • Keep in mind that the other person may react differently than what you are imagining, so keeping an optimistic outlook can save a lot of worry on your end.

4. Be Solution-oriented

  • If the meeting is intended to address an ongoing issue (as opposed to delivering final and unfortunate news, like a lay-off), then go in with a collaborative approach. 
  • Emphasize that the meeting is intended to be productive, not to blame anyone for errors or shortcomings.
  • Direct the conversation to the solution, not the problem.
  • Be open to suggestions and ideas from the other person.

5. Be Direct

  • Handle uncomfortable meetings like you would remove a Band-Aid. While you could peel it off inch by inch, that approach is going to be painful. 
  • Likewise, beating around the bush and being indirect might seem less scary than tackling the issue, but it will be more difficult in the long run. 
  • Just as band-aids are best removed in one clean swoop, difficult conversations are best handled with a direct approach.

6. Keep it Professional yet Empathetic

  • When being the one to deliver difficult news, it is important to keep an empathetic tone. While being the messenger is difficult, being the one to receive bad news is much worse. 
  • Do not invalidate or minimise the other person’s feelings, rather give them the time needed to process the news. 
  • At the same time, do not engage in any emotional display yourself- keep things strictly professional.

Keeping these six tips in mind can help turn a distressing conversation into a productive one, or even a positive one.

Sheza Firoz
Junior Content Writer



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