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14 July 2021

Seven tips on how to have difficult conversations in your business with your team and customers

Jairek Robbins

Many business owners hate having difficult conversations, but how we handle these situations is vital to the success of our businesses and, indeed, our careers.

How do you have a conversation in which great news or bad news needs to be delivered? How can you give feedback when it’s needed most? What happens if someone isn’t pulling their weight? Or are there times when conflict needs to be resolved?

Effective communication is critical in ensuring your business operates smoothly. If you want to have a practical talk with someone, you need to consider the outcome and how you will achieve it. Here are some tips on how to do just that.

1. Decide how the conversation will help

What is your purpose for having this difficult conversation? Is it to improve performance or behavior? Or does it need to clear up some uncertainty or a misunderstanding? Answering these questions will help you figure out what you’re aiming to achieve. If there’s no clearly defined outcome, then there’s no reason for the conversation to take place.

Keeping your purpose in mind will help you overcome common communication hurdles like interrupting, talking too much, and jumping to conclusions. It also enables you to prepare to know what kind of support or information is needed for this conversation.

Getting someone on board with what’s being discussed will be much easier if they understand the purpose behind it.

2. Stick to your point

It’s easy to get sidetracked or overwhelmed when you’re having a difficult conversation, especially with someone who isn’t agreeing with you. 

The trick is to keep returning to the issue at hand and not letting yourself become distracted by everything else that is being said. If you’re not sure of how to respond, then write your response down so that it’s easy for you to return to the topic at hand.

If your point is still unclear after this, ask some questions or clarify what they need from you. This will help bolster your business relationship and make any future difficult conversations more manageable, as you’ve learned from this experience.

3. Say what you need to say

It’s easy when you’re nervous to talk a lot or use filler words like ‘um,’ but it is vital that you understand the consequences of saying less than what needs to be said. If you don’t say something because you think it will make the situation worse, then things will get worse.

It’s okay to tell someone something they don’t want to hear, and it’s all about knowing how and when to do it. This is an opportunity for you to resolve the situation or start a conversation, not punish the other person. 

4. Be empathetic

This is especially important if you are about to give someone bad news. It’s okay for them to feel the way they do, but focusing on their feelings and being empathetic will help make the situation a lot easier. If you don’t want to talk or deal with them, that’s fine too, as long as you have already made it clear that this is how you feel about the situation.

5. Ask what they think

It’s essential to know how you are coming across so that you can assess if you’re making progress with your conversation. If the other person isn’t getting it, then maybe there is something that you aren’t saying or doing correctly. It also helps them feel like they have a say in the situation and that you are genuinely listening to what they have to say.

6. Don’t interrupt

It’s okay for you to finish your sentence before someone jumps into theirs, but it’s important not to interrupt them when they are trying to speak. If you need clarification on something, then ask for it, but don’t jump in on them. Take notes as they are talking and go back to clarify once they are done.

7. Take a break

If things are getting heated or if there is something you need to look into, then it’s better to take a time out from the conversation and resume once everyone has calmed down. This way, the both of you can get back to the subject without emotional baggage or distractions so that you’re able to have a more constructive conversation.

Opening the lines of communication between you and your customers or employees is essential for maintaining transparency in your business. Just remember that if you don’t get it right then, the other person will probably think that you’re inconsiderate, so always be empathetic towards them.

Thinking time:

1. What are the most difficult conversations that you need to have?

2. What’s your biggest fear when it comes to having these conversations?

3. Is there anything that can be done differently for you to feel more comfortable with these conversations?

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