Scene from American Pie between father and son

This scene from American Pie is the definition of awkward

Difficult conversations are an awkward, but essential, part of life. In the office, at home, on the street.

Difficult doesn’t just mean breaking really bad news, but might also include giving feedback at work, complaining in a shop, or talking to friend about a health issue.

I can’t believe for a second that anyone actually enjoys having difficult conversations (except, perhaps, for professional hostage negotiators and Alan Sugar). I certainly don’t enjoy them, either as the instigator or audience. Having been on the receiving end of a few difficult conversations, I’d like to think that I can be empathetic when it comes to raising them in the first place. There will be a handful of people out there from my personal and professional life, past and present, who, if they happen to read this, will completely disagree!

For what’s it worth, these are the points I think about when it comes to having ‘that’ conversation:

  • It’s a conversation first and foremost. That means face-to-face, not email.
  • Prepare. What is the key message; how are you going to deliver it; what are the likely outcomes?
  • Be crystal clear. When I’m nervous, I dance around a subject. The chances are, whoever you are talking to won’t get the message, making things more awkward.
  • If you think you may have been too blunt, or gone too far, then that’s probably a sign that you have got the balance just right.
  • Have a clear call-to-action. You have put the time and stress in to making this conversation happen: there needs to be a result or action.
  • Think about the person or people concerned, and set the scene accordingly. Literally; move tables and chairs, or engineer the meeting to happen in the right venue, according to how formal or otherwise this needs to be.