“He has asked me for a pay rise and I just don’t know how to say no.”
This was what I was asked in a coaching session earlier today. The person I was coaching is an established, credible and senior leader within her company.
The fact is, no matter what leadership level you sit on, difficult conversations are… difficult.
We will all encounter difficult conversations within our lifetimes, whether we are in a leadership role or not. So it is best to be prepared when they ultimately arrive in your life!
Here are four simple ideas, that if implemented successfully, will improve the output of any difficult conversation you have to orchestrate:
The number one factor of why difficult conversations turn into a verbal car-crash is… Being emotionally driven.
By definition, a challenging conversation will be emotive for at least one person (probably both people). As the instigator of the conversation, you will have adrenaline coursing through your veins. Your emotions will feel like they have just stepped up a gear, as your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. This is not helpful.
What is helpful is to, in a calm and mindful manner, focus on the facts. Rather than focusing our energy into how we feel. By doing this, the conversation has a good chance of remaining factual and real.
Reality is vital if you want a positive outcome to the discussion!
The single best way to lower your emotional levels before a difficult conversation – Preparation.
Understand the facts and rehearse the conversation. Physically practise saying what you want to say. The more you practise, the better you will get and the less emotional you will feel! Therefore, even if you have adrenaline pumping through your veins at the moment of truth, you will still be able to deliver the facts in a calm manner… because you have rehearsed it perfectly.
Also, it is powerful to rehearse the conversation with a focus on service.
When the conversation priority is a positive outcome for all concerned (not just a positive outcome for you!), you will have to alter your style and become less defensive. This approach has great benefits – it will lower the defences of the person you are talking to, thus lowering their emotional levels and it will enable you to talk in a frank and factual way, without it appearing as an attack.
A good strategy for a difficult conversation!
Understand you don’t know everything
You only know your facts… that is all.
When you understand this, it will allow you to focus on conclusions rather than delivery.
What I mean by this is that it is far better to be focused on a positive outcome, rather than being singularly focused on getting your side of the story heard.
So many people go into difficult conversations, bursting to say their piece. Bursting so much that it gets fired out like a machine gun… a surefire way to ruin the rest of the conversation.
If you enter the conversation with your main priority as a positive action resulting from it… then you will be more likely to listen… you will be more likely to understand… and you will be more receptive to the right course of action.
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”
Make sure your facts are facts
This is the oldest advice in the book of giving feedback, but there is a very good reason for this… because it is true!
The bottom line – Your facts have to have been observed and checked by you, if not you are setting yourself up to fail. The moment you rely on second hand information, the conversation will spiral out of control.
Again this is why preparation is so important. If you don’t do your homework properly, you are asking for trouble.
Give time and space
I have seen people utilse all the advice above, but then all that great work is destroyed with this common mistake… a tight time limit on the conversation.
You can make great strides, but if you have to cut the meeting off because of something else you have booked in to do, then you may as well not have bothered starting the discussion.
To rectify this you should plan and prepare for the discussion to go twice as long as you anticipate. If it is difficult for you, then it is difficult for them. Show them respect by giving them the time and space they need. They probably haven’t done all the preparation you have, so give them the opportunity to work through it properly.
If you do this, you automatically get two benefits:
- Shows that you are interested in them and a positive outcome, which will reduce their emotional levels.
- Allows autonomy – You give the person the time to come up with the right response, through their own judgement rather than emotion – 99.9% of the time they will develop a brilliant solution.
Putting it all together
We will all have to face difficult conversations in our lives… and they are going to be difficult!
You can make them much easier if you plan and prepare –
- Remove the emotion, rehearse and aim to serve.
- You don’t know everything, so focus on outcome rather than saying your bit.
- Ensure your facts have been observed by you.
- Give time and space to work it through properly.