How to Handle Challenging Conversations

How to Handle Challenging Conversations

Challenging Conversations

Challenging conversations are inevitable for us all. Differing perspectives and ways of doing things, a tendency to be poor listeners, a combination of stress and pressure - all of these factors contribute to the challenges we face in communication.

What is a 'Pinch Point'?

Let’s call a challenging conversation a pinch point. They are inevitable for us all; there is just no escaping them.

Every pinch point will turn into one of two outcomes: flash points or growth points.

Outcome 1: Flash Points

Flash points occur when our emotions dominate, issues escalate and, as a result, we display a lack of self-control.

Challenges then become even greater challenges and the end result is often one or more people being hurt.

Flash points often occur when we, as employees with emotions, fail to make an appropriate connection with one another and therefore communication breaks down.

Outcome 2: Growth Points

Growth points are quite different. Despite being founded from the same difficult workplace conversations, both people find a way to appropriately connect. Therefore they are able to display mutual respect and a desire to find the best outcome for each other.

Perspective is key in this process and what it achieves is often remarkable: the ability to see a challenging conversation in a new light and look for an opportunity for personal and collective growth in it.

How to find Growth Points in a conversation?

Looking for growth points in challenging conversations is hardwired into the development and foundation of exceptional leaders. The key to constructive conversation lies in the mindset of the person speaking.

How are you getting on with your mindset? Spend some time reflecting on each of the scenarios below

Scenario 1 – You end a meeting frustrated because a team member regularly belittled your comments and contributions.

Scenario 2 – You notice that another member of your team is very quiet in meetings and rarely speaks up. This has not just been this week but instead, an observable pattern over the last quarter. You want to say something but are aware that this person is a little sensitive.

Scenario 3 – Pressures at work have been steadily rising for some time. Each day begins with a tangible pressure and you notice yourself becoming overly focussed on the tasks at hand, to the detriment of personal relationships. You are not managing to find time to greet colleagues appropriately, you no longer take a lunch break and you become aware that you are single-minded and not your usual personable self. You find yourself being a little blunt with people.

Scenario 4 – You take on a new recruit and after six months, continue to be concerned about the value they are bringing to their team. You had hoped they would get up to top speed quicker and you are faced with having to have a difficult conversation about not continuing their employment.

Scenario 5 – You feel frustrated that you have rapidly been overlooked for promotion and others in your team seem to be being given preferential treatment by your leader.

For each of these scenarios, the pinch point is triggered by a different situation.
  • What are the potential dangers for each one becoming a flash point?
  • What could you do to try and avoid these challenges becoming flash points?
  • What might be potential growth points in each of these situations?

What difference would it make, to handle challenging conversations well? 

Growing into someone or into a team that can handle challenging conversations will help you develop exceptional communication skills that will stand out amongst others. We can all talk about it but few of us are proficient at putting these things into practice.

What difference would it make to you personally, if you grew in the area of managing challenging conversations and turning them into constructive conversations?

How might it benefit your wider team or your organisation?

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