Preparing for Difficult Conversations

‘Engage Brain Before Opening Mouth’ goes the traditional saying, and never has this been more true than when you’ve got a difficult message to deliver.

How many times has something gone badly when you’ve said the wrong thing? Or put the message the wrong way? The error was probably due to a failure to properly plan the communication.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of things have changed at work: priorities, processes, performance measures, customer demands and their spending power. Each one of these changes and many more have affected the way team members have to do their jobs.

So many business leaders and owner managers are now having to have difficult conversations to explain new ways of working, new systems or equipment, reduced availability of resources and in the worst cases, business closures or redundancies.

Even when delivering the most dreaded of messages, it is possible to have a positive outcome if you plan the communication carefully in advance. Surprisingly this is one of the most overlooked steps in the change management process.

First of all, you need to set aside plenty of time for the communication. Don’t rush it and don’t try to get every message across at once. Several conversations may be necessary with essential information also communicated in other ways (email, infographic, video etc).

Think about the outcome you are trying to achieve. And it’s not just ‘get a person to do X instead of Y’. As I have mentioned in a previous article, you’ll also want to build trust, motivate high performance and encourage personal growth.

Be aware that the person/people you are communicating with have different responses to change. Each individual has a range of emotional responses, particularly to uncertainty. This is exacerbated even more when they have other changes going on in their lives (as we all do right now). If you’re not sure what kind of response you might get, try to imagine the various alternatives and plan how you’ll respond to each.

Be open in your communication style and acknowledge those feelings, don’t try to brush them under the carpet. Listen twice as much as you speak – You have two ears and one mouth! Respond respectfully to concerns and try to encourage collaboration in dealing with the changes.

As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘If you fail to plan you are planning to fail.’ This applies not just to the project you are working on but to its communication as well.

If you would like help planning a difficult conversation you’re about to have, contact

Further Reading:

Bill McFarlan, Drop the Pink Elephant

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