How to manage difficult conversations

How to manage a difficult conversations

Saying or hearing the words, “We need to talk,” whether it’s in the workplace or in your personal life, can be a source of tension and conflict but there are ways to manage conversations that have the potential to be difficult.

Difficult conversations can range from speaking to a family member about concerning behaviour, to ending a romantic relationship, to navigating care options with elderly parents. In the workplace, challenging conversations include raising concerns about performance or unacceptable conduct, although predictably talking about remuneration has been ranked the most difficult conversation, with 33% of those surveyed stating that they avoided conversations about their pay.i

Can you remember a time when you’ve had to initiate a conversation you’d rather avoid? Or when someone approached you for ‘the talk’? Perhaps even now you have a challenging conversation looming that you need to have, but keep avoiding? You’re not alone, research has found that one in four people have been putting off a tough conversation for more than six months, while one in 10 have been doing so for a year.ii

The thing is, avoiding it usually doesn’t help. If handled the right way, an open conversation may even improve the situation or strengthen a relationship, and at the very least your perspective will be better understood. So, let’s look at some ways to tackle a hard topic.

Preparation helps

It helps to give some thought to what you are trying to achieve by having the conversation. Examine your motives carefully and be clear about what you would like as the ideal outcome.

It can be beneficial to do some “role play” in your head before the chat. To prepare yourself for what you think will be said and practice the best way of expressing yourself. Having said that, it’s impossible to prepare for all eventualities and you do need to accept the fact that you are entering into an open-ended dialogue that could go in any direction.

Active listening

While it’s always tempting to go straight in with your thoughts on the matter, it can be beneficial to start the conversation with some questions to obtain a sense of how the other party feels. Listen to their perspective with an open mind without interrupting and ask their permission to give you the opportunity to respond if you are finding it hard to get a word in.

Use your words

When sharing your ideas, it can be helpful to use collaborative language such as ‘we’ or ‘us’ instead of ‘you’ and ‘me’. Acknowledge that you understand and appreciate the other parties’ perspective by using phrasing such as “so what you are telling me is…”.

It’s a good idea to use ‘I’ statements. So, instead of saying, ‘You don’t care about me!’, which can make the other person defensive, try: ‘I feel upset with when you…’.

Try not to talk in generalities. Get to the point, describe exactly what you want from the discussion – do you want an apology, your point of view acknowledged, or change in behaviour moving forward? This will help provide structure to the discussion and a clear way forward.

Look for solutions

The ideal outcome is a mutually acceptable solution to the problem at hand. To avoid the discussion becoming adversarial ask for ideas ie “What are your thoughts are on how we can move forward and work through this issue together?”

Of course, not all conversations are going to have a happy ending. There will be people, situations or behaviours that you just can’t talk through – and that’s okay. By agreeing to disagree you have both at least aired your respective viewpoints.

You should also be proud of yourself for taking part in a difficult conversation. It takes real courage. And remember each challenging conversation you have is a learning experience making the next one that little bit easier.

i https://www.managers.org.uk/knowledge-and-insights/news/top-10-difficult-conversations/

ii https://www.hrmonline.com.au/topics/management-of-workplace-issues/avoid-tough-conversation-quit/

This article is intended as an information source only and to provide general information only. The comments, examples, words and extracts from legislation and other sources in this publication do not constitute legal advice, financial or tax advice and should not be relied upon as such. All readers should seek advice from a professional adviser regarding the application of any of the comments in this article to their particular situation.


Unleashing your creativity

Unleashing your creativity

When you think of creativity, does an easel and pot of paints spring to mind, or perhaps a musical composition or dance choreography? You don’t need to be artistic to be creative. Creativity can benefit all of us, in all aspects of our lives.

In fact some of the biggest success stories come from people who have managed to think outside the box and find a new way of doing things – people who innovate and revolutionise, such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Marie Curie and Alexander Graham Bell.

How did they manage to see the world differently? For many entrepreneurs and innovators, it’s their ability to think creatively. Creative thinking not only spurs innovation, but can assist you to create efficiencies, improve problem solving and work through uncertainty. While creativity isn’t a trait that comes naturally to all of us, fortunately this trait can be developed and fostered with some simple habits.

Expand your horizons

To be able to come up with fresh ideas and consider new perspectives, often we have to remove ourselves from what is familiar. This can be as easy as holding a meeting in a new location (such as having a walking meeting in a park, instead of sitting down in the same meeting room), or perhaps a trip is on the cards – the reason work conferences are often held in different locations to the office is that this change in scenery can stir up new ideas.

If you can’t physically go anywhere different, you can still expand your inner world. Make time for reading so that you’ll be exposed to diverse perspectives. The act of reading in itself can have a relaxing effect, which can then leave you more receptive to ideas, a topic which is explored in the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.i

A space for creativity

You don’t necessarily need a room of one’s own to be creative. What is needed however is the space to let your thoughts be. Of course this is easier said than done in the busy world we live in, but there are still pockets of time you can utilise. Rather than reaching for your phone while waiting in a queue, let your mind wander. Try to take regular breaks away from your desk, and opt for a change of scenery when you’re taking a phone call.

It might also be possible to change your working hours to best make use of your time and energy. If you have the flexibility to do so, structure your day so that you fit in enough time to go for a walk or exercise. We don’t often equate going to the gym or participating in sport as a creative activity, yet research shows that being active can enhance creativity.ii

Follow your passions

Our hobbies bring about creativity, often without us even realising it. If you’ve spent hours building a model, tending to your garden, watching the ripples on the water while fishing or listening to bird noises during a bushwalk, you’ve likely entered a state of ‘flow’, when time passes by without your awareness.

Again this allows space for new ideas to come into your mind, which may or may not be related to what you are doing – as goes the legend of the apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head, which led to his discovery of the law of gravity.

By following your passions, you’re not only giving yourself the space to relax and focus on something other than work, but you may find it results in inspiration. If you’re struggling to come up with a solution to a problem or are finding it difficult to string a sentence together, take a break to do something you enjoy – you might find the answer will come to you this way.

Whether you already think of yourself as being creative or not, creativity is an important tool we can utilise in all aspects of our lives. By simply having fun and changing up your routine, your creativity will grow and you can harness its power.

i https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/q-a-why-a-rested-brain-is-more-creative/

ii https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1332529/

This article is intended as an information source only and to provide general information only. The comments, examples, words and extracts from legislation and other sources in this publication do not constitute legal advice, financial or tax advice and should not be relied upon as such. All readers should seek advice from a professional adviser regarding the application of any of the comments in this article to their particular situation.


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