Humans are wired to run away from unpleasant situations. When faced with conflict, our brains release stress signals, triggering a fight-or-flight response. That’s why, rather than face a difficult situation, we often find ourselves running for dear life.  

It’s important to realize that tackling problematic issues can also generate highly positive outcomes. Resolving conflict, for instance, is an established source of motivation, creativity, and connection.

Below, we provide a 5-step guide to help you tackle difficult conversations at the workplace to foster harmony and togetherness among the workforce.

  • Step 1: Prepare

Preparation involves two things. First, gather your thoughts and take the time to fully understand the situation. What exactly are you unhappy about or uncomfortable with? Why does the situation upset you? And, what outcome would you be happy with? If you get to the conversation table without first asking yourself these questions, you risk going off on a tangent. Secondly, inform the other party about your desire to have a conversation about the situation, giving them enough time to prepare as well.

  • Step 2: Ask then Listen

In this step, you ask your questions then give the other party time to respond. There are a couple of best practices to follow. First, always begin by thanking them for taking the time to have the conversation. Secondly, be honest and try to frame your questions in a positive manner. Third, after stating what’s bothering you, ask for their point of view on the matter. Most importantly, be open-minded. We are different and have experienced the world differently, so it shouldn’t be a surprise for two people to take opposing positions on the same matter. Let them explain their side of the story.

  • Step 3: Understand their Perspective

You don’t have to agree with them. All you want to know is why they acted in that manner. Here too, there are a few best practices to follow. For instance, do not make assumptions. Making assumptions can lead to miscommunication, rendering the entire conversation pointless. Also, show that you’re actively listening by paraphrasing their argument and validating their feelings. It also helps to be self-aware. Recognize the role you might have played in creating the situation and ask yourself if you’ve displayed similar behavior previously.

  • Step 4: Clarify Your Position

Now that you’ve listened to them and understood their stance, it’s time to clarify your position and make your feelings known. Try to explain why you’re uncomfortable with how they acted, incorporating their side of the story (to the extent that you agree with them) to give a complete picture. Remember that you’re allowed to be harsh. In leadership, this is called radical condor; you care personally but challenge without fear. Even if you find yourself in a vulnerable position, don’t be afraid. Nothing can get solved if you hide your feelings. Moreover, your vulnerable state might make them genuinely sympathetic, leading to a truly authentic conversation.

  • Step 5: Arrive at a Solution

You’re now on the same page. Each party knows where they went wrong and what they could have done differently. You also understand why each party acted in the manner that they did. Now, it’s time to work toward a sustainable, long-term solution based on trust and understanding. Brainstorm an action plan together so that each party feels accountable. Once you’re done, thank the other party for their time and corporation.

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