May 2, 2017

Women in Leadership Recap: The Power of Communication: Engaging in Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations aren’t easy. They can be uncomfortable and awkward. But chances are, if it hasn’t already, there will come a point where you will need to engage in one. We tend to try and avoid these conversations when possible because we’ve all had bad experiences and often don’t know how to effectively approach the situation. At last week’s Women in Leadership meeting, we discussed how to handle these difficult situations in a way that produces a more positive outcome. A big thank you to Patty Egan, Portfolio Director at Prime Therapeutics, for sharing her knowledge and facilitating a great discussion!

While it may seem easier to just avoid these situations completely and go about your day, not addressing the conflict or issue right away can lead to many more problems, such as a reduction in morale, decreases in productivity, stressful interactions, and so on. So, how can you manage the exchange early on to get a positive outcome? Patty shared three simple steps with the group that you can utilize when you must engage in one of these situations. 

Preparation – Before the Exchange

  • Plan, plan, plan! Take notes and plan how you would like to approach the conversation. But remember, don’t overly plan as you don’t want it to seem like you’re reading from a script.
  • Get yourself calm! Try not to go into the conversation upset or mad because chances are your emotions will take over and it will not go as you planned.
  • Get an outsiders perspective. We often get caught up in these hard conversations, so it is important to talk things through with individuals who are not involved. By doing so, it may allow you to look at the situation from a different perspective.


Engagement – During the Exchange

  • Listen! It seems simple, but showing the other individual that you are actively listening can make a huge difference.
  • Be compassionate, but honest! Show the individual you care, but stick to the facts and tell the truth.
  • Slow down! Give the individual a chance to digest what you said as they may be caught off guard.
  • Suggest solutions, but also ask for solutions! Ask the individual how they think they can make the situation better or what they can do to make sure it doesn’t occur again.


Follow Up – After the Exchange

  • Reflect! What did you learn? How did you handle the situations? What would you do differently in the future?


Patty left the group with this inspirational quote she retrieved from Harvard Business Review: “Handling a difficult conversation well is not just a skill, it is an act of courage.” Remember these conversations are hard and it’s okay to struggle with them, but it’s important that you utilize each situation as a learning experience and grow from it.

What other practices can you utilize to help you manage and engage in difficult conversations?

Posted by: Rachael Gaffney

Tags:  Meeting Recap, Communication, Women in Leadership, Difficult Conversations

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