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5 minute read

Handling Difficult Conversations: How to Maintain Positive Work Relationships

Learning to handle difficult conversations is an art that is necessary to be mastered for a better career future. 

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Workplace conflicts are an inevitable part of professional life. Whether it’s a disagreement with a fellow colleague, a difference of opinion with a manager, or receiving feedback that challenges your performance, difficult conversations can be uncomfortable and sometimes stressful. 

However, learning how to handle such conversations effectively can contribute to a positive work environment and healthy work relationships. It creates a platform for honesty and empathy. 

One common but grave mistake people make is to avoid difficult conversations all together in an attempt to prevent conflict. On the contrary, this approach often leads to misunderstandings and unhappiness in the workplace. Clear communication is essential for resolving issues constructively from the get-go and building a positive workplace culture.

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So, whether you are taking on a difficult conversation with your supervisor, peers, subordinates or other stakeholders, how can you handle difficult conversations while keeping work relationships intact? Here are some key tips to try.

1. Don’t procrastinate

Avoiding difficult conversations only allows issues to fester and escalate, so it’s crucial to address them as soon as they arise. Get into the habit of delivering feedback regularly to prevent them from becoming bigger problems. 

2. Preparation is key

Prior to the conversation, take the time to write down the three main things you want to accomplish. This will help you ensure that the conversation stays on track. It’s also a good idea to gather relevant facts or data to support your points and focus on finding a solution, instead of dwelling on the problem.

3. Keep emotions at bay

It is important to keep the conversation professional without allowing emotions to cloud your judgement. Ensure you’re in the right headspace and not feeling anxious or defensive. Then, look at the situation factually and focus on communicating clearly and objectively. While you may have control of your emotions, be mindful that the other party may need time to process matters, so don’t take things personally if you receive a bad response. 

These tips can be helpful when initiating a difficult conversation. But it’s another ball game altogether when you’re on the receiving end. Here’s how you can better accept and implement the feedback received.

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4. Keep it professional 

It’s important to remember that the review you receive is not a personal attack on you. Instead of getting defensive, view it as an opportunity to improve yourself and your work. Have an open mind and focus on how it can help you grow professionally. 

5. Identify areas for improvement

Take the feedback as an opportunity to grow in your career and learn how to move forward. Highlight the areas where you can further enhance your performance and deliver better outcomes. 

6. Practice active listening

During the conversation, pay attention to what the other person is saying by asking questions and clarifying the feedback. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and facilitates coming up with a productive solution. Additionally, it shows that you are taking their comments seriously and are willing to understand their perspective better. 

Difficult conversations are a part of professional life, and learning how to handle them effectively is an important skill. But when approached positively and professionally, you can successfully navigate these rough waters and turn them into career opportunities for growth. 

Effective communication can help resolve conflicts and build stronger work relationships. So, embrace difficult conversations as a chance to learn and develop yourself.

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