An easy way to handle difficult conversations


If you run a business, manage employees, or deal with suppliers, there will inevitably be times when you have to face some difficult conversations - ones that you dread, avoid or mismanage.

You may have to reprimand a staff member, pass on bad news to a supplier, or talk to a client who is proving to be trickier to deal with than you expected.

Whether you do these verbally or in writing, here are few tips on how to make these difficult conversations a little easier:

1. Avoid using personal pronouns

Stay away from using "I", "we" and "you" in the discussion. If possible, make it about the situation or events, not about the personalities involved. For example, "the business needs products that will be available nationally" might be better received than "you're not able to supply us with what we need throughout the country".

2. Avoid unnecessary adjectives

Words like "really" and "very" can sound subjective or overly dramatic, so leave them out. Telling a supplier that you're disappointed sounds more professional than "really disappointed". It's probably sufficient to say that your staff member was late, not "very late". And telling them that their dirty work car is unacceptable will do the trick; no need to call it "incredibly dirty".

3. Avoid emotion and opinion

Make the discussion about facts, not feelings. This becomes easier to do once you remove the personal pronouns. Saying "it's unacceptable that deadlines are being missed" is less personal than "you keep missing deadlines". Because there is less blame or accusation in this approach, the recipient may not take the criticism personally and may be more receptive to suggested behavioural improvements.

Of course, there may be times when you need to add in a more personal approach. But even then, stick to the facts that aren't open to interpretation.