Freedman, founder of SpeakOut in Miami, says in almost any difficult conversation, you need to get across that what you are recommending is going to help the person with his or her relationships with other people.
Choosing the right place for the conversation is important, too. If your office seems intimidating or too public, arrange a private meeting. You might also consider inviting the employee for lunch or a cup of coffee.
For Adam Cronin, a personal trainer, the uncomfortable conversations were with clients and he held them outside the gym. He asked clients to take a walk with him, told them he was changing genders to become a female and urged them to continue on as clients in his new exercise facility.
“When you are going to have a conversation that is difficult, half of it is the set up — being in an environment they are comfortable in and letting them know you are going to talk about something that’s difficult,” Cronin says. Reactions were varied. “I knew that would happen. Going into a difficult conversation, you have to be prepared for any outcome while remembering you are doing what you need to do.”
Even with a well-framed approach, the person on the other end might become angry and defensive. If so, remain calm, respond in a way you can be proud of later. “Make it clear that your concern is professional, affects others and that you’re not making a personal criticism,” Garvis advises.
In many workplaces, the new tough conversations increasingly involve bad behavior around tech use. Those can be particularly tricky, especially when they involve someone senior to you in the organization.
Laura Berger, an executive coach and leadership consultant with The Berdeo Group in Fort Lauderdale, said she was asked to help staff at one company tell a CEO his incessant smartphone usage during staff meetings was offensive to his team. Berger forced him to role play with her. “You want them to sit in the shoes of someone else and observe,” she said. Then, she posed a question, “What do you think is a most effective way to modify your behavior?” She suggests, “Let them come up with ideas to solve it.”
While difficult workplace conversations take courage, the consequence of not having them can be costly. An overwhelming majority (85 percent) of employees at all levels say they experience workplace conflict to some degree, spending as much as 2.8 hours per week dealing with it, according to a CPP Inc. study. Managers tend to postpone these talks, or skirt the real issue, hoping the concern will go away on its own, says Berger: “That almost never happens.”