Tips for Handling Difficult Conversations With Tact
Being able to discuss issues and handle difficult conversations skillfully is an important part of finding solutions to workplace conflict. If you’re a professional facing an upcoming difficult conversation, it may be helpful to review tips for how to engage in discourse respectfully. In this article, we outline why it’s important to handle difficult conversations with tact and outline 13 strategies for doing so.
Why is handling difficult conversations important?
Handling difficult conversations effectively is an important skill that can help all professionals overcome workplace challenges and find solutions to the issues they face. While some professionals may feel uncomfortable facing difficult conversations, avoiding productive communication can lower workplace morale and distance employees from one another.
Therefore, being able to have such conversations successfully can allow professionals to foster a healthier work environment. With this, handling difficult conversations with tact can allow professionals to both develop their own communication skills strategically and deepen their relationships with coworkers.
Tips for handling difficult conversations effectively
When engaging in a difficult conversation at work, it’s important to manage your emotions, use careful language and focus on identifying solutions that all parties feel comfortable with. With these overarching goals in mind, here are 13 tips to consider when approaching a difficult conversation:
1. Have the conversation as soon as possible
Putting off difficult conversations can make you feel more anxious over time and raise the stakes for a conversation. Therefore, when anticipating a challenging conversation, try to engage in it as soon as you can rather than avoiding it. Engaging in dialogue in a timely manner can help you provide justification for having the conversation.
2. Think about the goals of the conversation
As you approach a difficult conversation, try to first identify your goals in having it. Consider what you want to get out of the conversation and what strategies you can use to achieve this result. This way, you can feel prepared to enter the conversation and guide it with confidence.
3. Choose a proper location for the conversation
Before you set a meeting time for a challenging discussion, try to find a suitable location for it. Consider having the conversation in a neutral location—like a conference room or a coffee shop—where both parties feel comfortable sharing space. Even more, if you think the conversation might intensify, having a conversation in a public space can help you avoid any emotional escalations.
4. Keep an open mind
It’s likely you are entering a challenging discussion with divergent perspectives. Therefore, try to keep an open mind as you engage with them. They may offer an explanation that clarifies the issue for you and helps both of you overcome the issue more easily.
5. Offer empathy
Both of you may be anxious entering a difficult conversation and discussions can spark emotional responses. With this, it’s important to be able to offer empathy to your partner throughout and reassure them that you’re having the conversation with the purpose of reaching a resolution.
6. Use resolution-oriented thinking
Most difficult conversations begin with the goal of identifying a resolution. Try to keep this goal as an anchor throughout your conversation and avoid letting the discussion slip into unproductive dialogue. From here, you can work together to find a resolution that works for both of you.
7. Speak using first-person language
Try to use statements that begin with “I” rather than “you.” This allows you to positively communicate your own perspective and avoid accusatory language. From here, you may find it easier to engage in a critical discussion comfortably.
8. Use ad rem strategies
Ad rem conversational strategies allow speakers to focus on discussing the relevant facts of a situation rather than engaging in personal attacks. Therefore, using these strategies can help you take accountability for your part in a situation, identify what went wrong and discuss any impacts objectively. From here, your conversation partner may be more receptive to your perspective.
9. Ask questions and practice active listening
As you approach your discussion, acknowledge that you may have preconceived ideas about a situation. In your conversation, you can overcome any of these notions by asking your partner questions about their perspective and how they interpreted the situation at hand. This can help you gain a better understanding of what their needs are and how you two can align to identify a resolution.
10. Manage your emotions
Any emotions you feel during a difficult conversation are likely valid and it’s possible you may start to feel sadness, anxiety or anger. Despite this, it’s important to acknowledge your emotions internally and manage your reactions to avoid escalating the discussion. Conversely, if the other person starts to visibly exhibit such emotions, help them manage their emotions by recognizing their feelings and treating them with respect.
11. Stand affirmed in your perspective
As you speak about your perspective, try to do so directly and confidently. Being affirmed in your feelings and opinions can help the other person recognize that you’ve thought carefully about the situation and better understand what your goals are. This tactic can be especially important if the other person disagrees with your perspective and attempts to devalue it.
12. Know when to take a break
In the midst of a difficult conversation, it can be hard to recognize when to take a break. Despite this, when the discussion starts to emotionally escalate or becomes circular, it’s important for you to take a step back to preserve your mental wellbeing and consider alternate approaches to the issue. Taking space from a heated conversation can help you reset and prepare to engage more thoughtfully moving forward.
13. Establish a follow-up protocol
While the goal of a difficult conversation is to emerge from it with an agreed-upon resolution and positive feelings, this doesn’t always occur. Sometimes conversation partners need time to recover emotionally from challenging discussions and may have to take space from one another to restore their relationship. Therefore, as you end a conversation, establish a protocol for following up with the other person at a later date, to check on them and affirm the resolution you came to together.