Connect with us

Human Performance

Five Tips for Delivering a Difficult Message


Five Tips for Delivering a Difficult Message

Difficult conversations are like paying taxes and getting older, no one likes it but it is a reality we all have to face.

And unlike a fine wine, a difficult conversation does not get better with age – because avoiding conflict only leads to bigger festering problems.

While no one likes to deliver a difficult message, it can, and often does, lead to important breakthroughs in the workplace. We have both had many difficult conversations over the course of our careers and when handled properly, we walked away better for it. And we’re not going to sugar coat it – we have also had conversations that did not go so well but we learned a few truly valuable lessons in the process.

First, everyone has fears when faced with dealing with a conflict – we have them too. Will the other party hear what I’m saying? What if they blow up like Mt. St. Helens? Will this attempt at honest communication make the situation worse? Maybe I should let it ride and hopefully it will blow over.

These fears are normal. It’s important to acknowledge your fears and move forward.

Second, look at your own history and be honest with yourself. We all have our own historical record with respect to conflict – it started at home, evolved over time and then went with us to the workplace.

Take a hard look at how you typically deal with conflict and then adjust as needed. If you grew up in a home that avoided difficult conversations and you typically shy away from them, recognize this and work through it. If you’re used to reacting immediately to conflict, perhaps take a breath and know you need some time to process. Know yourself first and you will have won half the battle.

In addition to acknowledging fears and honestly assessing yourself there are things you can do to bolster your confidence and produce a positive outcome. Here are some of our favorite tactics.

Five tips for delivering a difficult message.

  1. Approach the conversation with openness and an interest in problem solving. This should not be about who is right and who is wrong – it’s about understanding what needs to be changed in the interest of professional development, team building and the company’s goals.
  2. Convey your message as clearly and concisely as possible. When having a difficult conversation it can be tempting to talk around the issue rather than addressing it head-on. If you’re unclear, the message may not resonate and you could find yourself in the same situation again.
  3. Remove your emotion. If you have strong emotions about the topic of your difficult message, stop and assess. Ask yourself, if I set my emotions aside, is the conversation still necessary? If it is, give yourself some time to cool down so you can focus on the desired outcome of the conversation, not on your feeling about the situation.
  4. Consciously listen. When the other person is speaking, listen with the intent of hearing what they have to say. Seek to understand their perspective and you may learn something incredibly important about their point of view that may alter your thinking. Thinking about your response while the other person is talking, is not listening. If you’re not sure what he or she said or meant, ask for clarification. “I’m not sure what you mean,” or “Can you please help me better understand?”
  5. Do not deliver a difficult message as part of a drive-by. Set time aside and find a private place to talk. This will eliminate any distractions and allow you both to focus on the conversation, which emphasizes the importance of the message and eliminates concerns about being within earshot of others.

Speaking openly about conflict is not easy and it takes preparation and guts to get the job done. Acknowledge your fears, know yourself and face those difficult conversations head on – conflict does not get better with age.

Continue Reading