Starting Difficult Conversations at Work.

You have something that you want to say to a co-worker that might offend them, you must deliver bad news to a direct report, or perhaps you simply want to clarify a comment made by a supervisor that you took personally.

Starting difficult conversations can be hard - when is the right time, what do I say, what happens if it all goes wrong - the list goes on. The dilemma for most people is that the longer they leave the conversation, the worse they fear holding it. Conversely, if they start a conversation too soon they may not have thought it all of the way through and fear making a mistake or becoming emotional.

Previously, we would start a conversation by saying something like "Have you got a minute?" Difficult conversations seldom end within 60 seconds. Or we said "Can I interrupt you?" Too late, you already have.

Today we get straight to the point, with a tinge of politeness. "Is now a good time to talk" or "When is a good time to talk" are two sentences that work well for starting most difficult conversations at work. Why? Because you have indicated that you want to talk and you have asked the other person what time they would like to do so. Direct and polite.

When the conversation commences, again go straight to the point - 'This what happened, this was the result and this is how it impacted on me'. Or - 'This is what you are doing, this is the consequence, this is what I want you to do from now on'.

In earlier times, we Baby Boomers would use the praise (s*#t) sandwich - 'Say something nice, say something bad, say something nice'. Those days are long gone. Why, because all the receiver hears are the good things, the bad part which we should be focusing on is buried in the conversation.

Rightly or wrongly, conversations have got shorter at work therefore we need to adjust our own conversation style accordingly.

Open, honest, and direct is a reasonable guide when holding conversations at work.