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Pay Pros: 3 Approaches to Leave at the Door of Difficult Conversations

Posted on Aug 1st 2019


Pay Pros: 3 Approaches to Leave at the Door of Difficult Conversations

You’ve no doubt experienced difficult conversations with employees and leaders at some point in your career.

Despite most people’s instinct to avoid them, they are often a necessary element of employee improvement, leadership alignment, and company progress.

There are many conversational attributes, however, that have the ability to steer difficult conversations off track. The outcome is often undesirable and contentious results that lead to even more difficulty down the road.

When preparing for your next difficult conversation, here are three approaches to leave at the door.

Emotionally-Charged Dialogue

Leaving emotions at the door can be difficult for many of us, especially when we feel personally affronted or when we’ve invested significant amounts of time, energy and emotion into our work.

Rather than seeking to eliminate your emotions from difficult conversations, focus instead on understanding the facts and narratives both you and the other party are bringing to the table. Come prepared to have a discussion, not an argument, and allow the dialogue to unearth issues and opportunities you may not have been aware of.


There are two common responses to combativeness: shutting down or behaving combatively in return. Neither is effective when you’re looking for a positive outcome that puts all parties on the same page.

Combativeness is often a symptom of feeling undervalued, unappreciated, frustrated, stepped on, or misunderstood. If you or another person in the discussion is demonstrating combative behaviors and language, it’s best to push pause and reconvene only when each person can commit to leaving combativeness at the door.

Once that’s possible, ignore the instinct to avoid diving into another difficult layer of the conversation. Ask questions about how each party feels and why. Getting to the cause of combativeness is the best way to strike it from future conversations.

Exaggerations and Mistruths

Each person walking into a conversation is coming with their own truths of what happened, who’s at fault, and what’s at stake. Each person is entitled to their own beliefs, perspectives, and diagnosis of any situation. It’s when exaggerations of those beliefs come into play that things get dicey.

If you catch yourself exaggerating negative impact, behaviors, stories, and facts, one of two things is likely occurring: you’re trying to find additional ground to defend your stance, or you feel as though the weight of your concern isn’t enough to get the attention you feel it deserves from the other party. The same is likely true of exaggerations from others.

When stories and feelings are blown out of proportion, it can be difficult to recover the conversation. If you feel the dialogue take a turn in that direction, push pause and take time to ask questions and expand on your own needs and boundaries.

If you feel you’re being misunderstood or that the situation is being minimized, say so. If you feel like the other person may be feeling that way, ask.