How to approach a difficult conversation with a colleague

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We’ve all experienced a time where we’ve had to raise a concern or have a difficult conversation with another member of staff. Putting off having the conversation will not make the issue go away but, understandably, it’s not always easy to approach a colleague to address an uncomfortable issue.   

So, how can you ensure the best outcome from your conversation? It all starts with becoming aware of how you communicate with others – from your choice of time/place, to your body language and your ability to really listen.

Before you approach an important conversation with someone, check the following:

Before the conversation

Do you know how to begin?  Some people put off having a difficult conversation because they just don’t know how to start. The best way is to have a direct approach such as, “Sharon, I’d like to talk with you about what happened at the meeting this morning. Can we chat about it over a cup of tea tomorrow?” You don’t want to ambush people by not being upfront about the true nature of the discussion.

Have you chosen the right place for the conversation to happen? Time and place are key! Ideally, you want to find a quiet room, perhaps away from others, to hold your conversation in private. If the other person seems busy/rushed/stressed out when you initially approach them, then it may be best to try again at a more convenient time.

During the conversation

What does your body language say? If your body language reflects that you’re tense or anxious (for instance – arms crossed, head down, not making eye contact), it may put your conversation on the wrong foot straightaway. Instead, try to stand tall, raise your head high and relax your shoulders. You can get more tips on how to project confident body language here

Are you really listening to the other person? Many of us subconsciously stop listening to what someone else is saying, because we’re already thinking about what we want to say next! The most precious thing you can give someone is your undivided attention without interrupting with your own opinion. This will show the other person that you’re acknowledging what they’re saying, even if you don’t agree.

Are you giving natural and direct eye contact? Our eyes convey attentiveness, rapport and trust to the people we’re talking to. Research has also revealed that patterns in the iris send signals to others to indicate whether our intentions are friendly or unfriendly. Direct eye contact means not looking side to side or down to the floor, and natural means looking at the other person without staring. 

Do you understand the other person’s perspective? Try to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and see where they’re coming from, especially if they have an opposing viewpoint to yours. This will help you understand their motivations, be in a better position to address their objections and hopefully work towards a compromise.

Setting the stage to successfully approach a difficult conversation with a colleague hinges on having self-awareness and a desire to understand the other person’s perspective. Body language plays a huge part in how we are perceived, as a huge 55% of a message is said to be communicated through nonverbal elements. Next time you need to have to have a difficult conversation, check the elements above!

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