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Our top 12 tips for handling difficult conversations

Conflict in the workplace can be very destructive, leading to sick days or a lack of motivation, even personal attack. As a leader, learning how to handle difficult conversations provides an opportunity to head conflict off early and create a more positive environment at work.

  1. Reflect a little. Prepare yourself to let the other person tell their story before you jump in. And before you open the conversation reflect on your own perception – are there any preconceived ideas or emotions that you’re bringing to the table that aren’t really helpful?
  2. Identify the problem. If there is an issue, before you raise it, get clear on what it is and the impact it’s having. Otherwise confusion could make the situation worse.
  3. Identify the outcome. Before you have a difficult conversation be unambiguous in terms of what you want to achieve with it – that could be getting another person to agree to something, providing support or agreeing a mutual plan of action to overcome obstacles.
  4. Don’t block emotions. It’s far healthier to acknowledge them, whether these are your own or someone else’s.
  5. Remember how important it is to be consistent. If you take a different approach to a difficult conversation with one employee than you did with another then you may find that you start to lose people’s trust. It’s crucial to be consistent in the way you treat everyone if you want to ensure positive outcomes.
  6. Allow for there to be some moments of pause. You don’t need to fill every single silence in a difficult conversation with chat. It might be necessary for both parties to stop and think or to give the other person the opportunity to process what you’re saying.
  7. Be direct. From the start of the conversation be open and concise – begin with something that sets the scene as to why that person is there and what you want to talk about.
  8. Make an ongoing relationship your priority. Although it can take a long time to establish a positive relationship with someone this can be blown away in minutes by a bad conversation. When you’re thinking about the best way to approach a difficult chat make preserving the relationship the focus.
  9. Understand conflict resolution. It’s often useful to do some training on conflict resolution so that you have the language and the tools to manage the process.
  10. Be clear about how you’re going to handle objections and obstacles. Most often these come in the form of stonewalling, sarcasm and accusing. These ploys are inevitable in a difficult conversation and so it’s a good idea to work out in advance how you want to deal with them.
  11. Pick your time and place. A difficult conversation that takes place before a deadline in the middle of a busy office could have a much more negative outcome than one in a less stressed environment and a more relaxed location.
  12. Delve into the science. There are lots of books, lectures and podcasts available on the topic of difficult conversations and the more widely you read around the subject the easier you’ll find it to work with.

Difficult conversations are inevitable but the way you handle them can make a big difference to outcomes. Find out more by booking onto our Handling Difficult Conversations Confidently Training Course…

In-House Training with PTP

PTP stands for Practical Training for Professionals and our aim is to make our training as practical as possible so delegates can return to the workplace with skills they can implement immediately. PTP now delivers training to over 40% of the FTSE 100.

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1-to-1 training can be based on any of the 100 plus courses that PTP provides, it includes an initial telephone conference of up to 1 hour, a 1/2 day (3.5 hours) on-site one to one training session at your premises with one of PTP's expert trainers and then a further telephone conference call of up to an hour within 2 weeks of the on-site visit.

You have the option of a line manager being involved in both telephone conferences, the second telephone conference which can be for feedback and action planning is generally scheduled during the on-site visit.

Who does 1-to-1 training suit?

Individuals taking on a new challenge or responsibilities. Professionals who want a trusted "sounding board" and thinking partner. Executives or managers who want to enhance their leadership effectiveness to achieve organizational and career success. Executives and professionals wanting to compete successfully but still retain balance in their life. Individuals who want to understand their blind spots so that they don't stand in their own way on their path to success. Executives and Professionals who want to improve their interpersonal skills so as to be more effective with bosses, peers, subordinates, or people in general. How much does 1-to-1 training cost?

A 1-to-1 training session costs from as little as £400 + VAT and will include an initial telephone conference of up to 1 hour, a 1/2 day (3.5 hours) on-site training at your premises and then a further telephone conference call of up to an hour within 2 weeks of the on-site visit.

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Choose from any of the 150 plus courses that PTP provides, and choose from 1 of our 50 plus UK wide training venues. You must book for 2 or more delegates and at least 4 weeks in advance, but that’s it, the course you want where you want it. The reason we ask for a minimum of 4 weeks notice is to enable us to market the course you have scheduled to other companies and organisations. However, if we fail to sell any additional places we guarantee to run the course just for you.

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U-choose costs the same as our normal open courses i.e. the normal delegate rate. This includes lunch and refreshments throughout the day, framed certification and comprehensive training notes. A U-Choose booking can only be confirmed once we receive payment which can be made via credit/debit card, BACS or cheque. Payment is due at least 4 weeks before the date you request. Please note to be eligible for U-Choose you must book a minimum of 2 delegates on the same course & date.