Navigating Challenging Conversations in the Workplace

Photo of two people avoiding a difficult conversation.Navigating challenging conversations can be downright anxiety provoking. The thinking that takes place before the actual conversation is usually much worse than the conversation itself. Employees spend a lot of time worrying about what to say, how the other person will take it, what will happen, and how they will be perceived. They create a story to fill in the blanks, and that story is usually negative.

A study of workplace conflict reveals that US employees spend a minimum of 2.8 hours a week dealing with conflict.

  • 32% of employees have to deal with conflict regularly.
  • 33% of employees report that conflicts have led to personal injury and attack.
  • 22% report that conflicts have resulted in illness and absence from work.
  • 10% say that they have failed or had poor project performance due to conflict.
  • 35% of employees that leave jobs do so voluntarily because of internal politics within the company.

7 Tips for Navigating Challenging Conversations:
Preparing for a difficult conversation is an essential part of the outcome. I recommend taking the time to write the answers down so that you are as prepared as possible.

  1. Define the issue. Lack of focus derails conversations. Ask yourself “What behavior is causing the problem” and “What impact is that behavior having on you and/or the team.”
  2. Set an objective. What is the desired outcome? Be clear on what you want so that you can clearly articulate it. The responsibility to state your needs belongs to you.
  3. Know your non-negotiables. Do not agree to things in the moment that won’t work for you. This creates resentment and poor work performance. Be brave enough to say no, but always offer an olive branch of something else that you can say yes to.
  4. State the obstacles and solutions. What potential problems do you foresee getting in the way of your objective? Come prepared with possible solutions to those problems.
  5. Action items. Set well-defined goals on the next steps for you and your counterpart to move forward towards your desired outcome.
  6. Let go of your preconceived notions.  Reflect on your attitude towards the person and the situation. Your mindset and the way you are showing up might be the only thing standing in the way of your “yes”.
  7. Preserve the relationship. Be willing to honor the other person’s thoughts and opinions, even if you are not in agreement. It takes years to build a bridge and only seconds to blow it up.

Challenging conversations are a fact of life. Preparing yourself to have successful conversations will make you a better leader and communicator. It will reduce your anxiety and boost your work performance. Using your voice in an effective way will set you on the path to be someone who is respected and taken seriously.

Love insights in your inbox? Get them direct from Gretchen’s desk.