Six Tips to Managing Difficult Conversations

No matter how hard we’re trying, we can’t be or seem to be happy all the time. We all have good moments and bad moments, good days and bad days, but sometimes life happens and depression can get ahold of even the best of us. Most professionals will try their best to keep their real feelings hidden while at the office and not let it affect their jobs. But not everyone will manage to keep that up forever. This is when swift management over difficult conversations is a necessary skill.

Tips to managing difficult conversations

Negative emotions and vibes can easily be felt by those working closely together and everyone ends up being affected one way or another. Think of teams as an ecosystem where each component has to do their part in order to keep things going, to survive and prosper. If one of the pieces can’t work at full capacity, the others will be affected too. Therefore, when a colleague is sad or depressed, those around them will start having similar feelings.

As a leader, you will have to find a solution to prevent this from happening by providing support to your colleague or employee and help them back on their feet without crossing the line. The purpose of this article is to offer you some guidance and help you navigate those difficult waters. Here are some simple but effective tips.

1. Show your support. Let them know you’re there

There is something comforting in the thought that people are willing to hear and be there for you when you’re struggling. So the best thing you can do is to show that you are approachable and available if your colleague needs help. Make it clear that you are open to tackle such difficult conversations.

Most people won’t take the offer. Let’s be serious – not all of us feel comfortable talking to our boss about personal matters. But the simple fact that you leave a door open can make people feel less alone. Besides that, it will also show that you care, which will be deeply appreciated. 

2. Offer specific help

Let me know if you need something” is a nice thing to say but it’s not actually offering concrete help. If you want to go deeper and produce a real change, you will need to actually get involved. Ask the person what they need to make things better and move forward. This will gently push the person to actually dig in and figure out what could actually improve their current state.

Even if you won’t be able to give them what they need, you can move forward and offer to support them achieve those specific needs. Depending on how close you are to that colleague, you can do things to take the burden of small tasks off their shoulders. That can be anything from offering to get them lunch to performing small administrative tasks for them. 

3. Don’t offer unsolicited advice

If someone doesn’t let you in by sharing their thoughts and feelings asking for help, the best thing you can do is respect their boundaries. Unless you have specifically been asked for advice, it’s wiser to keep your opinions to yourself.

Offer support without preaching and make sure your colleague feels supported and not judged, even when you don’t necessarily agree with their methods. Don’t push difficult conversations unless they are requested.

4. Avoid clichés

Whether they are going through a divorce, had a loved one pass away, had their heart broken, or their dreams crushed, the last thing someone who is grieving wants to hear is cliché phrases such as “They’re in a better place now”, “Tomorrow will be better”, “Life has ups and downs”, “There is plenty of fish in the sea” etc.

These phrases will only show them that you have no idea what they are going through and simply don’t get the full extent of their suffering. Using such clichés in difficult conversations will have the opposite effect of your good intentions, so just refrain from using them.

5. Start a support group

What matters the most for someone grieving is knowing they are not alone. They are not going through it alone and they are not the only ones going through it either. Both are equally important and both can be manifested in a support group. Of course, the office is not a place for therapy so it doesn’t have to follow the classic recipe where a few people sit on their chairs in a circle and take turns sharing.

In modern office environments, it can simply be a new discussion board on the team communication app you’re all using. The discussions can be anything from just sharing some GIFs to actually sharing your thoughts and feelings with one another. This will bring the team together and show support for everyone who finds themselves in distress.

6. Be patient

Everyone is dealing with pain in a different ways, and we all process grief at a different pace. What you should expect is ambivalence and inconsistency. The mourning person is caught in a struggle between wanting to move forward and giving in to the pain. They can feel up to the most challenging tasks one moment and be unable to answer an email the next day. At the same time, these people can become very self-conscious and turn against themselves for not being able to perform the way they used to in the past.

As a manager, the best thing you can do is to show these colleagues that your respect for them as professionals is the same as before while being flexible and ready to make some exceptions. 

The good news is that things won’t stay like that forever. It may take weeks or even months, but sooner or later, most people move on to a process called posttraumatic growth. By that time, they find new meaning to life and a wish to excel, create deeper connections, and live life to the fullest. It is then when you should nurture and gently push your colleague out of their shell and hand them the tools to succeed. 

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