Tricky conversations are commonplace in the workplace. Whether it’s negotiating a pay rise or change in role, handing in a notice or solving a conflict with a colleague or a demanding boss, it’s inevitable you’ll come across characters or situations where you feel uncomfortable or out of your depth.
While these events are naturally stress-inducing, there are some techniques and processes you can implement to make them feel more smooth-sailing. Here, we spoke with two communication experts for their practical tips.
Utilize your emotional intelligence
A difficult conversation means different things to different people. For Lauren Paton, a coach and EFT practitioner, it’s important to understand what triggers you. “Think about what makes you feel uncomfortable,” Paton advises. Whether it’s competition, uncertainty or financial situations, it’s good to have self-awareness of what you struggle with. Paton suggests raising this in advance with your boss or line manager. “If you don’t tell them, they won’t know,” she notes. By doing so, you can flag your issue and hopefully put some steps together to make these situations easier.
Prepare emotionally and physically
It’s always good to prepare yourself ahead of scheduled difficult conversations. Faith Hill, a certified Life Coach and Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), suggests trying to take fifteen minutes before the conversation to yourself. This is especially important at the moment when working at home often in close proximity to family or friends. “Give yourself some time alone to gather your thoughts,” she suggests.
If the conversation is sprung out of your nowhere, there are things you can do too. Paton recommends tapping underneath your collar bone while doing deep breaths. “This is an acupressure point. In moments of stress, the fight or flight response is activated. Tapping sends signals to your brain that you are safe,” she says.
In terms of the conversation itself, think ahead about what needs to be covered. For example, Paton suggests thinking about how you feel, what will come up, what is important to the person you are speaking and the business at large.
Understand the other person’s communication style
The key to getting someone on the side when navigating an uncomfortable conversation is building rapport. This is best done by mirroring the other person’s communication style. Everyone processes information differently and by imitating this it is easy to get someone on board and help them see your perspective. It’s a powerful and persuasive communication technique.
Hill refers to a concept called chunking, a theory from cognitive psychology which refers to how people like to deal with information. “A high chunker looks at the bigger picture and prefers broad stroke descriptions whereas a low chunker needs finite pieces of detail,” she explains. Consider what the person in question is like and adapt accordingly.
Similarly, Hill suggests thinking about whether a person is audio, visual or kinesthetic. “This is a great way to understand how someone communicates. You can then speak back in their language without defying your point or lessening your request.”
State your needs
It can be easy in high-pressure situations to find yourself feeling emotional. However, this isn’t always the most helpful way to approach things. Hill recommends a communication technique called Non-Violent Communication. “It boils down to how you make a statement. No one can argue with our own needs,” she explains.
For example: “When you <insert behaviour>, I feel <insert emotion here> because I have a need for <insert need>.” In a work setting this might be: “When you shout, I feel upset because I have a need for respect.”
Take a reality check
Remember the person you are chatting with is also just a human being like you. It can be easy to feel intimidated by others in the workplace but keeping this at the back of your mind will help.
“We often forget the person we are communicating with has their own personality, family, likes and dislikes,” Paton says. Similarly, if they are a boss or someone more senior, they are also likely to be under more pressure than you are that’s coming from above.
If someone speaks to you in a way you find difficult, try to not take it too personally. “Remember the way they communicate is about them not you,” Paton notes.
Own up to your mistakes and offer a solution
Mistakes are an inevitable part of being at work and owning up to them is crucial. “Never hide it and risk trying to fix it,” Paton says. Instead, be clear on mistakes and offer a solution to the person you need to notify. “See it as a learning opportunity and remember mistakes are needed to grow,” she says. After all, bosses you have will have been in that position at one point or another.
Avoiding difficult situations in your working career altogether might prove difficult but with these techniques in your communication toolbox, approaching them can be much more stress-free.