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Our jobs would be a lot easier if workplace interactions were always handled professionally, with respect and a sense of decorum. But we all know that just like with our personal lives, tough conversations are sometimes necessary in the course of our careers. Sometimes colleagues aren’t doing their best work, are leaving things undone or are making more work for other people. The time comes when it needs to be addressed. Without anyone planning it, they can spiral into emotional discussions, leading to anger, hurt feelings and strained work relationships.

Handling a difficult conversation in the workplace requires empathy and skill. Being successful at your job means more than just meeting your goals. It means helping to foster a sense of workplace wellness for you and your colleagues. And it means when you’re facing what could be an unpleasant talk with a co-worker, you might need a little coaching to get you ready for it. Let’s walk through some tips and easy steps to take so you can remain calm and professional during a difficult conversation at work.

Difficult Conversations Will Occur In most workplaces, there is no way around this. There are times when unpleasant issues need to be discussed. And when that happens, people’s emotions can bubble up, raising the level of difficulty. It’s important to understand that you can only control your own behavior. You have the ability to maintain your professionalism, your sense of composure, and how you speak respectfully during these hard conversations. Remember that speaking slowly and quietly can help lower the level of anxiety the other person might be feeling and help diffuse any emotional reaction on their part.

Create a Loose Agenda

A little planning can make tough discussions more manageable. When you’re in the thick of this conversation, it can be hard to remember everything you wanted to discuss, or even what your main points were. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. If you sense that is happening, pause for a moment and return to the agenda that you made beforehand. It will have at least the main highlights of the discussion spelled out, so you can make sure you don’t end the conversation without getting your point across.

Show Empathy

It costs you very little to be kind and empathetic, even when tough topics are on the table to be sorted out. During these times, always take into account what the other person is feeling, regardless of what the topic of conversation is. And always assume there are myriad unseen issues going on in the other person’s life that have nothing to do with your conversation, but could be feuling how they are reacting to it. They could be dealing with financial issues, a loved one who is ill, or a child who is having problems. And while those things may have nothing to do with the work issue you are discussing, to the other person it may feel like one more stressful event atop a growing pile of them. That’s why it’s important to be a good listener during these discussions. Learn to set aside your own feelings and give the other person the freedom to express theirs.

Be Comfortable With Silence

For many people, this is a tough lesson to learn. We’re conditioned to fill gaps in conversations, but that’s not always the best route to take during a difficult discussion. You’ll probably find there are moments in the conversation where silence occurs. You might even find it to be an uncomfortable silence. That’s OK. Let it happen. Don’t worry about rushing to fill it with words. During difficult or emotional talks, a pause to two in conversation can have a calming effect. It allows the message to sink in, and it lets people gather their thoughts before they say something else.

Choose the Right Place to Have the Conversation

There are a few ground rules to follow to set the stage for a successful resolution to a difficult topic:

  • Choose to meet in a neutral area. If you’re the person’s manager, instead of meeting in your office – which might feel intimidating to the other person – try meeting in a small conference room or separate work space.
  • Pick a meeting spot that is private. Difficult conversations don’t need an audience.
  • Be aware of your body language. If you are sitting stiffly with your arms crossed, you don’t look like you are inviting a good conversation. Lean forward and listen to the other person. Don’t frown or shake your head at them, even if you disagree with what they are saying.
  • Make sure the other person feels like you are in this together. Find a way to play up the job’s teamwork angle, and use words like “we” and “our” to make it clear to the person you see them as part of a successful group.

Preserve the Relationship

Difficult conversations don’t have to end by creating a strained relationship. Always think about how a tough talk can lead to a solution to the situation. Don’t burn bridges between you and the other person. There’s still a lot of teamwork ahead and even if it’s just for the sake of the workplace environment, you need to be able to get along with them and do good work together. This may mean you have to be the bigger person. If things felt rocky as the conversation ended, reach out with an email or note the next day, telling that person you were glad you both were able to be open with each other, and express your hope it leads to a better work environment for both of you.

Also, in the weeks after those tough talks, look for an opportunity to highlight that person’s success. It sends the message that you’ve seen their hard work and are ready to reward their accomplishments. It can be another personal note, or a team note recognizing their work. If your workplace has an incentive program, it might be a small gift card or personal gift to mark their success. For example, Artistry Signature Select™ masks make good gifts that are always appreciated, allowing people to indulge in a little pampering. Or for those constantly on the go, a pack of XS™ Sports Twist Tubes is a thoughtful treat because the refreshing hydration supplement is designed to help prep a body for any adventure.

Having difficult conversations at work are never the high point of anyone’s day, but for the sake of workplace wellness and your team’s success, it’s important to prepare for them. With these tips to guide you, you’ll be ready to handle your next discussion with professionalism and empathy.