Career / Career Development

4 Secrets To Handling Difficult Conversations At Work Successfully

. 6 min read . Written by Mira Swarup
4 Secrets To Handling Difficult Conversations At Work Successfully

Are you struggling to speak up at work? Do you have trouble giving or receiving feedback? Do you wish to be heard? Mira Swarup, impact communication coach and speaker writes for Kool Kanya and shares some secrets to the art of effective communication at work. Learn how to have tricky conversations with ease.

Having difficult conversations seems difficult because it’s a skill only a few implement effectively.

Difficult conversations are those that 1) evoke feelings, 2) make us question the things we believe in, and 3) strain relationships. Our environment doesn’t train us to have a difficult conversation – we are trained to be good girls and boys who don’t raise concerns. Ironically, we grow up watching our elders and seniors resolve arguments using either violence, or silence. 

Whether it’s picking a side, expressing disapproval, providing feedback or critique, or having conversations that turn into heated arguments.

Regardless of the intent, what matters is how you express your thoughts, ideas, and opinions at work. 

Watch Kool Kanya’s live event with Mira Swarup on ‘Communicating Effectively At Work’ here.

4 Secrets To Handling Difficult Conversations At Work Successfully

Many of us hate conflict, and believe that a good team is one where everyone sees eye-to-eye on all issues. This is not only impossible; it’s untrue! A good team is where everyone knows how to disagree effectively. 

Teams (and relationships) need conflict to thrive; therefore, we need to learn how to manage conflict. 

Practising difficult conversations is powerful because it strengthens the muscle that encourages us to act with integrity. Training in this skill helps overcome our natural fear that saying this and doing that will have negative consequences. Training in the art of difficult conversations helps us put behind thoughts such as “Maybe people won’t like me” or “Maybe they’ll talk behind my back” among others. It makes us stronger, more powerful action-takers in the world.

Women – Here Are Some Communication Mistakes That Hold You Back At Work

Instances of sexism and misogyny are rampant in the workforce, where women are already underrepresented. In a situation where the odds are stacked against us, it’s important for us to know how to have difficult conversations and carve our space. 

Here are some common communication mistakes that are holding you back.

1. Speaking In A Rush

Sometimes, we may speak in a hurry to finish what we’re saying without realising it.

The reason? We’re afraid we’re taking up too much time in a conversation, or because we’re ensuring that no one interrupts us.

To the listener, though, we just sound nervous and under-confident. 

Solution: Slow down consciously and practice taking micro-pauses in your speech.

4 Secrets To Handling Difficult Conversations At Work Successfully
4 Secrets To Handling Difficult Conversations At Work Successfully

2. Using Adjusting Words Such As ‘Just’

“I had just one question to ask.”

“I just had something to say.”

“I am probably not getting this, but…”

“It’s probably just me, but…”

This can sound weak and apologetic. As children, girls are trained to adjust and please; we think not adding those words can make us seem aggressive or harsh. 

Solution: Remove those words and focus on the tone. Your statements will sound stronger, and still diplomatic.

3. Slouching And Holding Your Body Too Close Together

Being in a room full of men, women can unconsciously try to make their bodies appear smaller.

This happens because we’re wired to hold less space and come across as demure; sometimes, we could also be feeling intimidated. 

Solution: Be conscious of how your body is placed as it communicates louder than words. Hold your space like you belong there, which you do!

How To Successfully Have Difficult Conversations At Work

You can’t lead effectively unless you communicate consciously. In communication, using the right words and sentences at the right time can inspire, acknowledge, intrigue, validate and include others. 

Here’s how to do it right:

1. Be Mindful Of The Words And Phrases You Use 

You don’t want to use language that makes you come across as unsure, weak, or rude. 

  • I’ll try – This suggests you’re unsure of your abilities. Instead, use: I’ll work on it; I’ll take care of it
  • In my opinion – You may come across as acting superior, especially in a crucial conversation where stakes and emotions are high. Instead, use: In my experience
  • I’ll stay up and get that done – Leadership is neither about martyrdom nor about seeking sympathy. Instead, set a time. Say: I’ll do this first thing tomorrow/next week/after the weekend.

2. Provide Constructive Feedback

Feedback is most well-received when a respectable rapport prevails.

People find it easier to point out mistakes than the positive points, so our feedback often becomes critical instead of constructive. 

Ensure that when you’re pointing out the positives in someone’s work, it doesn’t come across as a facade. It may come across as ingenuine if you say, “The report is good, but points A, B, and C need to be done right”. It is a lot more effective to replace ‘but’ with ‘and’. This is how you’d want to say it: “The report is well written and it would help to do XYZ things in points A, B, and C.”

4 Secrets To Handling Difficult Conversations At Work Successfully
4 Secrets To Handling Difficult Conversations At Work Successfully

3. Provide Support Along With Critique

It also helps when you offer help along with your critique.

“Is there anything you’d like me to help with to make this happen/to avoid this from happening?” This shows that you mean well and you want them to succeed.

4. Remember these two rules during meetings

Meetings are ground to a lot of opinions, and opinions can differ. It is insulting to say, “You are wrong about that” or “I disagree”. It’s wiser to say, “I heard your point of view and I think differently”.

This statement follows two rules: acknowledgement, and respectful expression.

Acknowledgement is key in any interaction. When we speak without validating what the other person has said, it can turn discussions sour. Acknowledging is not the same as agreeing. It is the state of allowing another person to express themselves without inhibitions.

Then comes respectful expression – it follows naturally once you allow yourself to listen to a different point of view without judgement. Use your logic and reasoning to make your point.

You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.