It’s never easy to have an uncomfortable or fierce conversation with someone at work—whether the conversation is with a same-level employee or a subordinate, you’ll always find yourself struggling to find the words to initiate it. At first, it may seem easier to ignore the issue and move on, however, a recent study has found that poorly managed conflicts come at a cost to the company.
A study done by The Myers Briggs found that “the average employee spends 2.1 hours a week dealing with conflict.” Which, when calculated out, amounts to workforces spending $359 billion on office conflicts each year. So, it should go without saying that overlooking a conflict, no matter how miniscule it may seem, is not the best approach.
Rather than avoiding difficult conversations, it is fiscally wise to address conflicts as they emerge. Not only will it save your company money in the long run, but it will also drastically improve the culture of your office given 27% of employees have seen conflict lead to personal attacks and 25% have seen it result in sickness or absence. Additionally, positive work environments have also been linked to successful companies. For example, one study found that happy employees had a 12% increase in productivity, while unhappy employees were 10% less productive than average.
Taking the initiative to have fierce conversations in the workplace is clearly worth it in the end, but for some people, especially for those who are afraid of confrontation, it can be difficult to do. Here are some of the best ways to handle a difficult conversation, and how to ensure it doesn’t blow up in to something even bigger.
Plan out what you’re going to say, but don’t script it.
Why? Well, if you plan out what you’re going to say word-for-word, you won’t be fully invested in the conversation. You’ll be so focused on saying your lines that you’ll fail to hear what the other person or people are saying to you. You do want to plan out the gist of what you’re going to say, though, so you don’t seem scattered and unprepared.
Look at the conflict from their perspective.
Before going in to the conversation, think about how this conflict may seem from their point of view. What driving factors could be causing them to speak or act the way they do? Also think about why they may think they’re right; if you were them, what would your justifications be? This will allow you to have a cool and collected conversation, hopefully with the tension at a minimum.
Have a goal in mind.
If there’s no desired outcome from a fierce conversation, then what’s the point of having it? Make sure you know what you want to get out of the conversation, and listen to hear what the other person or people want to get out of it too. Difficult conversations can be tense and they can hurt someone’s feelings, so make sure it has value to you, the other person/people, and the organization before initiating it.
Show them you care.
Don’t jump in to the core of the conversation right away, as that’ll undoubtedly end with hurt feelings and tense relationships. Start by asking them to review themselves with questions like, “How are you doing?”, “What are you doing well?”, or “What do you need from me?”. This will give them the platform to speak first, which will reduce the likelihood of them feeling personally attacked. It needs to be a two-way conversation, you shouldn’t be berating them or criticizing them the whole time.
Use the conversation-sandwich approach.
It’s hard to deliver bad or negative news, especially when the other person may not have seen it coming. Using a sandwich method for the conversation is always a good idea; you start and end the conversation with positive topics, while discussing the negative ones during the meat of it. For example, start by asking them questions that show you care, then bring up the conflict or reason for having this conversation, and end by giving them compliments on their strengths. This makes delivering the bad news much easier, and the recipient will leave feeling heard rather than attacked.
We all know how hard these conversations can be, but with a little more preparation, you’ll be a pro at shutting down conflict and having those fierce conversations without creating added tension. Difficult conversations will never go exactly as planned, but you can try to make sure they go as smoothly as possible.