How to Navigate Difficult Conversations

A single conversation failure can cost an organization $7,500 and seven days of work. Having a difficult conversation is a leader's least favorite part of their job because they are less prepared and less confident. Often the message being delivered is viewed as bad news and you're unsure how the other person will react. Furthermore, you've likely never been given a roadmap for how to effectively navigate and prepare for this type of conversation.

The good news? With some simple planning, the conversation can go smoothly.

For every 1 minute you plan, you save 4 minutes.

In Paragon's IT Leadership Forum we share a framework that participants have found helpful and it all begins with understanding the communication styles that will be involved in the conversation, including your own. This is important because each person is unique in their thoughts and reactions so having a one-size-fits-all approach can be detrimental. For the best results, it's important to prepare ahead of time and think through:

  • Who will be involved and what is their communication style (i.e. expressive, analytical, amiable, etc.)?
  • How can you make the person more comfortable? 
  • What signs of tension should you look for?
  • What do you hope to achieve/what outcome would you like from the conversation?

Click here to download the comprehensive difficult conversations worksheet. Leveraging the worksheet can help you think through different scenarios and an appropriate response strategy. 

During the Conversation
  • Clarify and listen
  • Stick to the facts/try to keep emotion out of it
  • Be aware of your words "I thought you were going to do X" 
  • Ask clarifying questions
  • Don't forget to ask if there's anything else - oftentimes the underlying issue hasn't been discussed yet
Clarifying Questions: Tell me more. Help me understand. Please explain.

The benefit of tackling difficult conversations is that you build trust as a leader, which leads to an aligned, satisfied team.

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