Converse (verb), to talk informally with another person or the interchange of thoughts through speech. Sounds easy enough, but many people have not perfected this essential skill – leaving the door open for misunderstanding and mistakes.
Celeste Headlee said, during a Tedx talk she gave in 2015 on “10 ways to have a better conversation” that most people talk at the rate of about 225 words per minute. When you consider that this equates to 13,500 words per hour, you would expect us all to be experts. When we are faced with a difficult conversation, however, the reality can be quite different.
When having a dialogue about a difficult subject, we are faced with two choices; avoidance, which can leave us with regret, or confrontation, which often does not follow the script we rehearsed in our head. As the saying goes, ‘there is no such thing as a diplomatic hand grenade’  meaning that irrespective of how you attempt to approach the difficult subject, the focus of the conversation will still have the same impact.
Performance Management is an area fraught with potential difficult conversations. It can be understandably challenging, and sometimes distressing, for some people to be told that they are not meeting a required standard or expectation. Instinctively they may become defensive and self-justifying, which means the purpose of the conversation, to discuss how to improve performance, is not discussed.
To avoid situations like this derailing your next difficult conversation, consider these tips.
1. Be present and prepared to be part of the conversation.
This may seem obvious if you are initiating the conversation, however, this means going beyond simply being in the room.
- Be prepared to own the conversation and avoid saying things like “I don’t like having to do this”.
- Be committed to your conversations by standing behind its purpose.
- Engage with the other person by actively listening and demonstrating that you are committed to resolving the issue.
2. Be clear and confident and situationally aware.
- Avoid scratching the surface about the issue and do not skirt around.
- Act respectfully confident about what you must say about the issue.
- Consider the impact on the person.
- Remember to let them be part of the conversation.
3. Know what is at stake. Now and later.
- This is particularly important for conversations about poor performance.
- Be open to talk about the impact the issue is having now.
- Invite them to think about the ideal future outcome.
- Make the conversation about resolution, not blame.
4. Commit to act.
Develop a plan for resolution together and be committed to implementing it.
- Never leave a conversation with a regret about not saying everything you intended to.
- Take a moment before finishing the conversation to mentally tick of the topics you wanted to cover.
Finally, leave the door open for future ‘check-in’ conversations so that issues can be raised as they occur, rather that accumulating and requiring further difficult conversations.
About Jason Clark
Jason Clark is Worklogic’s Associate Director, based in Sydney. Jason has extensive experience as a workplace investigator, investigating a range of issues including fraud, bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. He has also assisted numerous organisations develop strategies to minimise poor behaviour and encourage a positive workplace culture.
Prior to joining Worklogic, Jason was the Joint Investigation Office Commander for the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service. Acting as mentor and leader, Jason managed a team of investigators in a dynamic environment, handling complex cases. For more advice, please email Jason or give him a call (02) 9152 8706.
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 Stone,D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (2010). Difficult Conversations. How to discuss what matters most. London, England: Portfolio Penguin