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Three Keys to Having Difficult Conversations

Avoiding having difficult conversations because you’re uncomfortable? Afraid you’ll hurt someone’s feelings? Worried you’ll damage your relationship? Why not just say so?

The people you work with want to work with other human beings. And part of being human is expressing how you feel.

It may seem that admitting that you’re nervous or uncomfortable wedifficult conversationsakens your position and diminishes your power. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Saying how you feel and being willing to be vulnerable are signs of strength. People with strong egos can admit when they are uncomfortable, people with weak egos feel too threatened to do so. Vulnerability and authenticity help other people see you as human, and make people feel closer to you. And people want to work with other human beings, not emotionless androids who never show their cards.

If you’re nervous, say you’re nervous. If you’re afraid you’ll negatively impact your relationship by speaking up, say so. If you’re not sure it’s your place to raise an issue, say that. You won’t lose anything by stating your concerns. You only stand to gain.

Starting difficult conversations could sound like this:

Having difficult conversations option one: “I’m not sure it’s my place to talk about our department’s Customer Service Survey results, but I care about our reputation and have a few thoughts. Is it ok if I talk about them with you?”

Having difficult conversations option two: “I’ve got some input for you that I’ve been hesitant to share, but I think the information could be helpful to you. I care about you and your career, and I want you to be successful. Is it ok if I share my thoughts?”

Having difficult conversations option three: “I’ve got a few things to talk with you about, but haven’t brought them up because I’m a bit concerned about how you’ll react. Is it ok if I share them with you? I’m saying these things because I care about our department, and I’m noticing a few things I think we can do differently, for better results.”

You probably noticed that in the examples above, I stated that I was concerned about speaking up, asked for permission to do so, and stated the reason I wanted to provide input. Your motive for having difficult conversations is very important. When people trust your motives you can say anything. When they don’t trust your motives, you can say little.

Don’t be afraid to say how you feel. If you’re afraid to speak up, saying so won’t reduce your credibility, it will likely increase it. State your concerns, explain why you’re speaking, and ask for permission to give feedback. Doing those three things will help any message be well received and is likely to make it easier for you to say what you want to say.

difficult conversations

About 

Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at www.candidculture.com.

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