Instigating a difficult conversation can feel daunting, with 50 per cent of managers citing dealing with such conversations as their biggest challenge. It is a statistic reinforced by HR managers, who, when surveyed, said only 21 per cent of managers in their organisation are confident at addressing challenging issues and complex situations.*
There is a natural tendency to avoid acting, hoping that the problem will be resolved without drawing attention. However, this is rarely the case. Delay won’t make problems disappear, and if issues are ignored, they are likely to escalate, causing disruption and unhappiness.
To help managers deal with difficult conversations in the workplace, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has developed a mnemonic to help people navigate such meetings by being better prepared to TALK. It is a helpful framework and worth remembering next time you face a challenging conversation.
- T – Think about how to reframe the conversation in your mind. Don’t label it as ‘difficult’. It may be about an awkward, problematic or complex subject, but you can focus on constructive outcomes by suggesting solutions or addressing the alternatives.
- A – Always use clear, simple and neutral language. Refer to specific examples and stick to the facts.
- L – Listen to what the other person is saying and hear their point of view. Show you care about how they see things.
- K – Keep the focus on the issue and the impact of behaviour, not criticise the person and their values, personality or characteristics.
When preparing for any meaningful communication, the key points to remember are:
- What desirable outcome do I want from this conversation?
- What do I want the other person/people to think, feel, and do as a result?
- What attitude will I bring to help me achieve a desirable outcome?
- (If frustrated/upset or similar) What might be a different way of framing the conversation to achieve a desirable result?
Sometimes it can help to write down everything you want to say – freestyle, no editing – just let it all out. Then walk away – get some fresh air – breathe. Come back to what you have written. Read it without judgment. Accept that all the feelings expressed are valid, but some are more helpful than others. Now set aside what you have written and take a new page. Write down anything and everything that you enjoy about your work, the organisation and the people. Think about what you are grateful for in life and write this down.
Then take another fresh sheet of paper and write the answers to the four questions above. Take time to hone your message. You might find it helpful to use the framework below:
- Outcomes (setting out what you want from a conversation),
- Tells (your viewpoint),
- Asks (what you wish to know or happen),
- Gives (what you are offering),
- Next Steps (agreed-upon actions to achieve your Outcomes).
You may need several passes at this. Each time limit your focus to no more than 20 minutes. Take a break and do something else that is healthy and enjoyable. Listen to some uplifting music. Go for a walk. Do whatever it takes to lift your mood. Then return to your messaging. This exercise will calm your stress response and help you gain perspective to plan productive and valuable conversations.
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Source: * Dale Carnegie, January 2022