Whether it involves talking with your teen about sex or drugs, your spouse about finances or housework, or your employee about attendance or performance issues, the prospect of initiating a difficult discussion is daunting to many, if not most, people. Mix in the tendency to procrastinate tackling unpleasant tasks, then feeling guilty about putting something so important off, and you can wind up feeling even more miserable and anxious about the impending conversation. You might even lose sleep over it.
Initiating such a discussion doesn’t have to be nearly so painful. With the proper mindset and some preparation, you can learn to handle even the most difficult topic with ease and confidence. The following tips will enable you to do just that.
1. Realize that by having the discussion, your goal is to benefit others as well as yourself. Whether or not he shows it, your teen will most likely appreciate that you care enough to talk to him about things that concern or matter to you. In the case of the employee with the performance issue, she will have an opportunity to correct or improve on it, or face consequences. In either event, the other members on your team will certainly appreciate that you took steps to address the situation, because they will see the poor performer either stepping up to the plate or terminated.
2. Focus on the possible positive outcomes of having the discussion sooner rather than later. The employee’s performance could most certainly improve. Or you may have the opportunity to replace a poor performer with someone more willing and able to do the work and follow company or departmental policies. Either way, the performance of your team as a whole will benefit, which will be a positive reflection on your own performance.
3. Prepare for any possible reaction to the discussion. Have contingency plans for handling any behavior or response to what you have to say, whether it be anger, denial, silence or disbelief. Knowing in advance exactly how you will deal with any of these will give you the confidence you need to proceed. Understand that you cannot control a person’s reaction, and in many cases you cannot predict it either. But you can always prepare for any possibility.
4. If the topic for discussion is an especially difficult one for you, have a reward planned for yourself when you complete it. Take a half day off to do something you enjoy, or treat yourself to something you ordinarily would not. After all, you just accomplished something that doesn’t come easily for you. You deserve something special.
Following these tips will not make handling difficult discussions any more fun, by any means, but doing so when the necessity arises will make you a better and more competent communicator, manager, parent and/or spouse. And who wouldn’t benefit from that?