Whether with loved ones, friends, or coworkers, we typically spend our lives avoiding the inevitability of a difficult conversation. However, when it’s time for them to happen, they have to just… well, happen. Work conversations can be especially difficult – especially when emotion is involved – because you have to maintain a modicum of professionalism and respect.
Here’s our seven-step process to have on hand for any difficult conversation at work. Use these seven steps when you’re being called out for a mistake, when you’re confronting a coworker about a lazy attitude, or when you’re finally asking for that salary increase. It works for both sides of any difficult conversation. Here we go.
1. Take a beat and check your mindset
Not every difficult conversation is going to be “confrontational” per se, but let’s use a confrontational conversation to begin with. Whether you’re the confronter or the confronted, you are going to enter this difficult conversation with a particular mindset. If you’re being confronted by your boss, your mindset might be, “She is wrong,” or “I’m sick of this job, anyway.”
On the other side, if you’re a manager confronting your employee, you might go in with a mindset like, “I am tired of this careless behavior,” or “This mistake has cost me xx dollars.” Before entering into a difficult conversation – whether planned or unexpected – take a beat. Slow down, identify your mindset and push it aside. Entering any two-sided conversation with an immovable stance is going to get you nowhere.
Take a moment, identify, and abandon your mindset (at least for now.)
Difficult conversations on the horizon or not, practice mindfulness throughout the day. This can mean taking a minute to breathe when you’re walking down the hallway to the restroom, taking five minutes in the break room at lunchtime, or taking a mindful walk while quietly, mindfully, and non-judgementally taking the world in around you.
Ahead of a difficult conversation at work, practice some mindful breathing. If it’s a conversation you’re particularly nervous about having, this will give you time and space to cool down your heart rate, to center your thoughts, and to abandon that pesky mindset we spoke about earlier.
3. Make a loose agenda
When our emotions are heightened and we’re having tough conversations, we can forget some of our main points. If you are having a planned conversation, make a list of your main talking points.
If you become flustered or overwhelmed, take a deep breath and refer to your agenda. For example, if you’re having that conversation when you finally ask for a raise, make a few bullet points about your major achievements, milestones, and client wins.
4. Listen carefully and actively
Listening sounds easy enough, but it can actually be quite difficult, especially in a challenging conversation. We’re all guilty, especially in a confrontational discussion, of waiting for the other person to stop speaking to interject our points.
If you’ve set aside your mindset, listening should come a little easier. Let the other party make her point entirely, take your beat, then use mirror language that indicates you have been listening. For example, if your manager expresses that she is frustrated by your missed deadlines, respond with her language. “I understand that you are frustrated that I missed a few deadlines in recent history.”
Listening is paramount in all workplace communication. Active listening stops any potential problems in their tracks, shows a high level of respect and empathy, and improves overall communication.
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5. Show empathy and compassion
The next thing you want to do, in any difficult conversation, is to show compassion and empathy. This means, no matter what difficult conversation you’re having, it’s taking the other person’s point of view into account.
This might mean setting aside your own feelings or emotions in regards to this difficult conversation. Take a beat, allow the other participant to express their side of the story, then proceed. Keep in mind that the narrative you have in your mind might be completely misguided (it happens!) and listen with empathy.
6. Take time to reflect
Whether you’re giving or receiving bad news, it’s important to take time to think back, offer questions or answers, and to give the other person space to do the same.
Often, these conversations are so challenging and uncomfortable to have that we speed right through them. By slowing the process down a bit, it allows both parties to communicate, to listen, and to gain perspective from the other. For example, a layoff is an incredibly uncomfortable conversation to have. But, guess what? Nobody in the room wants to be having it.
Take time, towards the end of the conversation, to reflect. If you find that you are overwhelmed with thoughts or emotions, offer to have a follow-up meeting or email exchange where details can be ironed out.
7. Offer input or a solution
Wherever you see the chance, offer a solution, recommendation, or alternative. If you are having a difficult conversation about a coworker’s missed deadlines, offer a project management tool you can both use. If you are laying off an employee, offer to write recommendations, connect the employee with your network, or keep your communication lines open for further questions.
Wherever you can, offer a solution. This allows you both to work together to find a solution or alternative – one where both parties of this difficult conversation can learn to grow and thrive, whether together or while navigating separate paths.
This article originally appeared on Career Contessa.