Author: Jenny Medland, Student Experience Officer - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
It’s not often you’ll take time on a Wednesday morning to discuss whether you’re an elephant or a dolphin but that’s the position I found myself in when I attend the ‘Difficult Conversations’ training delivered by Mediation at Work.
The day-long workshop offered a mix of theory, group discussion and extremely helpful roleplaying exercises. I attended the training as I’m new to line management, but have found the content and advice really useful in all aspects of my role, including some of the trickier meetings!
We looked at the three kinds of difficult conversations you’re most likely to have in the workplace, and below I’ve summarised my key takeaways on how to manage them constructively.
1) Giving Bad News: Own it! It can be tempting to evade responsibility, but people will respect honesty and straight forwardness. Be honest, direct, and allow the other person time to process and the opportunity to come back with questions.
2) Addressing Conflict: Validate rather than justify. If someone is criticising or commenting on your behaviour, rather than jump to being defensive take the time to listen to what they’re saying, validate their perspective through active listening, and move the conversation on by focusing on a potential compromise or shared goal.
3) Giving Difficult Feedback: Start off by asking for permission to offer feedback e.g. “I’d like to talk to you about your behaviour in that meeting – is this OK”? Giving permission immediately makes people more responsive to hearing feedback and makes the conversation a two-sided discussion.
The best bit of advice I was given was probably the simplest – prepare yourself! Whilst you can’t ‘script’ a difficult conversation, identifying your own ‘default conflict behaviour’ (Kilmann’s conflict mode instrument is a helpful starting point); picking an appropriate setting/time and planning a rough structure for the conversation (we discussed the DESC model as a good one to use) can help keep the situation calm and you confident.
Find out more about the courses offered by Mediation at Work through their website.