Tackling tough conversations in the office

Questions, face-to-face interactions, saying no, 'I feel' statements are key

Workplace interactions and miscommunications make difficult conversations a necessity at some point, but following a few tips and scripts that Aisha Langford collected for Inside Higher Ed may make the confrontations a bit smoother.

Before initiating a conversation, be sure it is worth having. First think about whether there is a better way to address the issue and what you want to accomplish by talking. If you decide a conversation is necessary, follow these four guidelines to make it easier:

1. Ask questions to open up the conversation. Make sure to use open-ended questions—these will help you get to facts and understand the other person's point of view on the subject. Together, that will help you both reach a resolution.

2. Have the conversation in person if possible, otherwise use the phone or video messaging. "Email is not good for emotionally charged issues," writes Langford. Tone and emotions may be misread, and the message itself may be forwarded on to someone else.

3. There are ways to say no politely. At times it is necessary to decline taking on another project and using "yes, but" or "choose" structures allows you to reframe the situation. For example, Langford suggests phrasing a response as:

"Yes, I believe I can do that, but it will have an impact on your other project that I'm working on. Though I don’t know for sure, my best guess is that it will delay the other project by around [number of] weeks. Will that work for you? Which project should be the priority?"

4. Use "I feel" statements when dealing with emotions. The other party is less likely to feel directly attacked and become defensive when these are employed (Langford, Inside Higher Education, 6/12).

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