Don’t be scared, it’s just a conversation…

Top tips to lean into a challenging conversation…

So many of us feel the fear when it comes to needing to have what we anticipate will be a difficult conversation. Louisa, a manager in the NHS, co-leader of a Woman’s Network, and an alumni of the AWL is the guru of difficult conversations. I have never know anyone embrace the challenge like she does. I have long admired her ability to make this look effortless, even when we all know it isn’t. She doesn’t relish these conversations either, but she knows that sometimes, in order to move forward, it’s just what we need to do. Louisa shares her tips with us here. Read, absorb and give it a go…

Louisa Stockman Vine
Coach, NHS Manager and Co-Lead of the South East London NHS Women’s Leadership Network

Are you faced with a difficult conversation?  Perhaps you want to address a relationship issue (personal or professional), provide feedback, negotiate a pay rise or simply feel the need to get something off your chest. A few years ago, whilst I was busy ranting about one problem or another my husband remarked “don’t moan about it unless you are going to do something about it”.  To be honest that was quite irritating at the time but I realised he was right and it spurred me on to be proactive rather than sit back and accept things.  Over the last few years I have had quite a lot of tricky conversations and over time have become more skilled and confident in managing these situations albeit it can still feel pretty uncomfortable.  

As an accredited coach, I find many coaching sessions focus on how to approach a difficult conversation.  I am still learning but can offer some tips and preparation is key:

  1. Think about what you want from the conversation

Be clear about what you want the outcome of the conversations to be.  You may be asked this directly so it’s good to be ready but if not don’t be afraid to state what you want in clear terms.  

  1. Consider the other person’s view and their possible reactions

Try to see the other person’s perspective and consider what their reaction might be. In my experience, you can never completely anticipate this and there will be some surprises but where possible think about how you might respond.

  1. Choose your words carefully and own your feelings

The language you use is key in order to express yourself whilst being mindful of how the other person may react. Remember that what you say and what the other person hears may be different things particularly if they are feeling defensive. Own your feelings, only you know how you feel so don’t be afraid to express that and explain the impact on you.  

  1. Listen 

Once you are having the conversation you can often feel in rush to have your say, especially after all this preparation but remember to listen too.  

  1. Find the right time

It’s important to find the right time, if you arrive for a 1:1 with your manager and sense they are not in a good mood it may be best to delay this aspect of the conversation. Consider whether it is helpful to advise the person what you want to discuss in advance. You may want to meet over a coffee or even a glass of wine to provide a more informal setting.

  1. What is the worst that can happen? 

It is always best to think positively however it is worth considering what is the worst that can happen? If you don’t get the outcome you wanted, will you still feel pleased you had your say? How will you respond? This is not meant to put you off but it is important to consider. In most cases even if you don’t achieve the desired outcome it will still lead to better things; for example, if you don’t get the agreed pay rise it might be the push you need to apply for new roles.  If the immediate outcome is not what you wanted hold in there and keep trying!  

Go on, be brave, be bold and have that conversation! Let me know how you get on by dropping me a line over at LinkedIn.

Louisa Stockman Vine, NHS Manager and Co-Lead of the South East London NHS Women’s Leadership Network

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