We’ve all had them before. Conversations with our coworkers that we try to avoid because they make us feel uncomfortable or awkward, but at the same time they are necessary as professionals. It could be an employee approaching a supervisor to discuss salaries or performance, or two coworkers addressing an assignment with expectations. Regardless of the theme, some conversations are just difficult to have due to our mindset and self-esteem at the time. But in this post, I am going to share some tips that should help the next time this situation presents itself.

To start off, you must first acknowledge the reason for the conversation. Why is it necessary? This will dictate the tone surrounding the discussion. For example, does this conversation need to happen because of something the other person did to you? Or is it something that you are attempting to persuade as a result of the discussion? Tone establishes emotion and allows empathy to blossom, which can guide the conversation away from hostility if there is a conflict.

To illustrate this strategy, the best approach is to examine an example. Let’s say that you need to discuss an assignment with a coworker where they heavily criticized your professional work. It is very possible that you may feel self-conscious about your abilities, betrayed by your coworker, and possibly angry at them for how they engaged you in their criticism. The first step would be to indicate to them that you need to discuss something important. Perhaps create a meeting time and private location in the office where you both can focus on the task. Setting up an official meeting should indicate to them that the topic is important and requires their attention. Once in the meeting, start by thanking them for their time and start slow. Work on building up to the main point of the meeting. Perhaps start discussing the assignment and how much work you put into it. Follow that up with discussing your conduct as a professional and how important it is to you that your work be respected. By inching closer to the main point in the conversation, you slowly relax the listener, and they begin to empathize. Once empathy is established, you can bring out the main point. By this time, they have been prepared to hear what you have to say and will likely be more receptive. Think of it like your lead-up is bracing them slowly for a blow. Not necessarily a negative blow, but people can react defensively when challenged on their conduct, even if they are wrong or mistaken. You want to acknowledge that you enter the conversation with your “guns” holstered and hands out front respectfully so they can meet you. Obviously, a metaphor, do not bring guns to the meeting.

When you have felt disrespected, it is vital that you remain respectful when engaging because it redirects the tone. Remaining calm and approaching the topic much like an essay tries to persuade its reader is the key. It guides the conversation to ensure the listener does not react defensively but rather empathetically so a mutual resolution can be achieved. These are difficult conversations, but they don’t have to be with the proper preparation and strategy.

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