Five Ways to Prepare Yourself for a Difficult Conversation

Do you have a difficult conversation looming over you? Is the dread of it stressing you out or negatively impacting your sleep? The first thing to understand about a conversation like this is that you shouldn’t draw out the wait. Putting off the conversation will not make it easier or go away. In fact, it will probably have negative consequences on your wellbeing–and the problem the conversation is addressing will only get worse in the interval. But don’t just rush into the conversation either. The key to making it go well is to prepare yourself beforehand.

Rehearse what you’re going to say. One of the worst things you can do with a conversation like this is to wing it. Take as much time as you need to gather your thoughts and think over what you want to say. You should even consider practicing the conversation aloud in front of a mirror over and over until you can speak your mind calmly and confidently.

Come prepared with facts and keep opinions out of it. Opinions are subjective and can feel like a personal attack. They’re also more likely to be refuted by the person you’re talking to. It’s hard to argue with clear numbers, however. Whatever the conversation–discussing an employee’s poor performance or talking to your boss about a mistake you’ve made–prepare yourself with facts.

Enter it with a calm mental state. The last thing you want to happen during a difficult conversation is to let your emotions get the best of you. The other party may become defensive, angry, or upset, and that could trigger a reaction in you. Try not to let their responses rattle you and make you lose your calm. Before the meeting, you’re likely to be nervous so take a few minutes to breathe deeply and listen to some calming music. This will help lower your heart rate. Remind yourself beforehand not to rush to answer questions or respond. Instead, pause a few beats before saying anything so you can gather your thoughts and collect yourself.

Don’t let it turn personal. Remember to keep the conversation on them and their performance. I once had a conversation with an employee about being late to work. He tried to turn it on me and  I responded calmly to his statement, “I want to make sure we’re keeping the conversation on your performance. During the last week, you were late four times without informing us.” By keeping my calm and using facts, I was able to turn the conversation away from an attack on me and back to the employee.

Have an exit strategy. If the conversation isn’t going well, and the recipient is too emotional or upset to understand what you’re saying, you may need to reconvene at a different time after they’ve been allowed to collect themselves. Say something like, “It looks like you may need some time to process this information. Why don’t we meet tomorrow at the same time and we can continue our conversation?”

For personal coaching about difficult conversations, contact me here. I have years of experience as a leader, motivational speaker, and business consultant (I’ve had plenty of difficult conversations in my time!) I’ll use my experience to guide you.