5 simple tips to never fear difficult conversations in the workplace

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5 simple tips to never fear difficult conversations in the workplace

Sally-Anne Blanshard, Career & Business Coach


Conversations. They’re the wheels of every organisation, and the direction they turn and how effectively they are being communicated will often say a lot about the direction of an organisation itself. Every day, employees, clients and all kinds of other stakeholders have conversations for various reasons. Generally, these conversations are run-of-the-mill, a songbird’s fallback track. But others, whether through lack of confidence, fear of consequence or unpreparedness, can quickly sound the sirens.

Sally-Anne Blanshard shares tips at Dexus Place Brisbane for having those difficult workplace conversations

During my time mentoring and coaching business executives, I’ve found there are typically four types of conversations that evoke such fear and lack of confidence:

  1. Asking for a pay rise or promotion - especially one that feels overdue
  2. Admitting error or failure and asking for help
  3. Giving constructive criticism and feedback - particularly when expectations weren’t met
  4. Resolving a conflict

While there’s no getting around the fact that these conversations aren’t easy, the right knowhow and preparation can ensure you never fear a difficult conversation again. Here’s how.

1. Setting the scene - choose the right environment for the right occasion

I wish I could tell you café meets are appropriate for every conversation, but the reality is they’re not. This is especially true for difficult conversations in which you want to be perceived as professional. I.e. most of the situations described above. It is more respectful to book in a meeting room and, instead, offer a coffee within this setting. Not only is this hospitality 101, it will help settle everyone’s nerves. In fact, Nespresso Professional research found that 87% of C-suites agree coffee can help facilitate difficult conversations.

2. Know what you want to say and why

This one might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many of my clients can’t succinctly answer this question when asked. Whether you’re gunning for promotion or explaining a shortcoming, the key is to clearly articulate your point and back it up with solid reasoning. That is, why you believe the what exists. “I believe I deserve to be promoted because over the last 18 months I have met and, in many cases, exceeded my KPIs, as you can see here.” Rarely does it need to be any more complicated than that.

3. Outline clear objectives for the conversation and make them known to all parties

Once you know exactly what it is you want to say, you should have a clear outcome in mind. It’s imperative that all parties are aware of the purpose of discussion prior to booking in the meeting. There’s no quicker way to derail a well-intentioned conversation than to keep someone in the dark about the reason for the meeting until they’re sitting in a chair across from you. It’s inefficient, ineffective and, if you’ve ever been on the receiving end, completely off-putting.

Having a difficult conversation can be as simple as sitting down over a high-quality cup of Nespresso coffee

4. Tap into the power of exercise and sleep

You’ve thought long and hard about a difficult conversation that needs to happen. You know exactly what you want to say with resounding reasoning as to why. You’ve booked in a meeting at the office and all parties know its purpose. The only problem now, you’re nervous. There’s a wealth of useful information out there for dealing with nerves and anxiety, and we all respond better to different approaches. For me, the most effective, tried and tested way to destress and nullify nerves is the simplest of them all: exercise and sleep. As a rule of thumb, I aim for at least 8 hours sleep the night before a big meeting. Then, on the morning of, I’ll kickstart the day with 30 minutes to an hour of moderate exercise to harness the vitalising power of endorphins.

5. Next steps…

There’s no way to guarantee a conversation will play out exactly how you expect or hope, but the right preparation will ensure you’re in the best possible position to deal with any difficult situation. The most important thing to bear in mind when all is said and done, regardless of the outcome of a conversation, is it’s essential that you clearly outline next steps. This will ensure all parties are aligned on what needs to happen to reach a desired destination. Be sure to put this in writing, over email, to ensure they are actionable and accountable.

As you start to have more of these courageous or difficult conversations your confidence will show up and this can only help you make positive progress in your career, business and life.

Sally-Anne Blanshard

Sally-Anne Blanshard
Career & Business Coach

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