Gaining the right mindset for difficult conversations

Don't you hate that feeling when you know you have to have a difficult conversation with someone at work? It could be letting your manager know what you are unhappy about. It could be a conversation with a co-worker with whom you have barely been on speaking terms. To be honest, I know just as many managers who also dread difficult conversations with a team member.

It seems that the fear of conflict is a human condition.

But as is often the case with so many things, we often need to find a more helpful way of thinking before we can take constructive action. Here are three different mindsets that may help.

The first is simply to expect the best. Allowing ourselves to think hopefully, that a good outcome will be reached, allows us to project a better demeanour. If we expect the worst, then this will also affect how we are coming across. Either way, our mindset can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, a backup plan for coping with defensive behaviour is always a good idea. So, apart from expecting the best, you can also prepare for the worst, just in case.

You can also approach the conversation imagining the other person as a teacher who can help you to understand where they are coming from. This is preferable to imagining the other person as the enemy. When you have a mindset of the other as the teacher, you will find yourself asking questions so you can better understand their position and responding non-defensively if the other person is being human.

Many people develop an urgent mindset. They spur themselves into action by imagining the consequences of inaction. They think, ‘Unless I do something, I am going to be miserable'. Now while such a mindset may well get you moving, I do think it sad that often people need to become extremely unhappy before they act. When frustrations have built to this point, you are less likely to express yourself well. When it comes to difficult conversations, the general rule is the sooner the better.


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