Tips on Handling Difficult Conversations by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

No matter how great a relationship is, the time will come when you will have to have a conversation with someone that is certain to be uncomfortable.  There’s really no way to make such situations comfortable. However, there are ways to handle the conversation that help to diffuse the situation, and leave the person feeling as good as possible about the circumstances. Here are some tips to help you minimize the discomfort as much as possible.

1. Set the Stage. Let the person know that the conversation is a difficult one and tell them your intention is to be a authentic and constructive as possible. Reinforce that the relationship is important to you otherwise you wouldn’t be having the conversation in the first place.

2. Be Specific. When it comes to delivering bad news, some people measure their words so carefully that they wind up not getting the message across. Be sure that the intended message is clear, and be sure that it isn’t buried in fifteen minutes of unintelligible babble. Get to the point early in the conversation.

3. Balance the bad with some good. Everyone has good traits, and receiving poorly delivered feedback can leave a person feeling like a failure. During the conversation, be sure to remind the person of their valuable skills and personality traits. When asking for improvement in a certain areas, remind them of the skills and traits they possess that can help them to make a turnaround.

4. End on a note of action. It is best to leave a difficult conversation with a plan of action and follow up. If you need performance to improve, for example, be certain they understand exactly what improvements need to be made, and that they have a roadmap to making these improvements.

It is important to develop your “bad news” skills. Resilient people are able to plan ahead for such conversations, writing down the points you want to make, and going over them in your head before you meet with the employee. Once you have a specific plan in mind as to which points you want to make, and you’ve ensured that your message is clear, specific, balanced with good points, you’ll find that these conversations, while never completely comfortable, are less daunting than you originally believed.