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Avoid Undue Stress at Work: Face Awkward Conversations Head-On

Difficult conversations at work can cause stress and lower morale. Learn how to face these conversations head-on our tips below.

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Everyone hopes for their workday to be as stress-free as possible, however, sometimes your day requires having an awkward conversation with a coworker. It’s natural to want to be universally liked by coworkers and there is a desire not to rock the boat at work, as you generally have to continue working with these same peers, sometimes for many years. 

No one wants to accidentally create a hostile environment, though it’s also crucial to make sure that the workplace doesn’t suffer because of unaired grievances. 

Here are some excellent strategies you can follow, that will not only make an awkward conversation more palatable, but just might leave your relationship with the other person stronger than when you began. 

  1. Don’t avoid the issue

Because they require some emotional labor and no one likes to feel uncomfortable, many people will just ignore or avoid difficult conversations at work. However, waiting to have a talk often makes a difficult conversation seem more contentious than it needs to be.  Avoiding it completely often creates an atmosphere of resentment. Try instead to talk to people about an issue promptly, even if you don’t really want to. 

2. Prepare for your meeting

Many make the mistake of going into an awkward conversation without a plan. This is likely because they don’t want to think too much about what will have to transpire. Instead, a strategy might be to consider 3 things you would like to get out of the conversation. Think about the other person and what you want them to get out of this. Maybe address how you want to welcome the person and how you want them to feel when the conversation is concluded. Try to figure out how you will get from point A to B while accomplishing the 3 things you would like to iron out. 

3. Don’t beat around the bush

When you have a tough conversation to face, it’s common to try to soften things by talking around the subject you most want to address. Instead, take the initiative to be bold and honest relatively right away. Other people are generally not fooled by couching your desired points in pleasantries. 

4. Leave the conversation open

Awkward conversations can make some people very chatty — making them start to speak in monologue without letting the other person get a word in. If you are one of those people, consciously prepare yourself and try to remember to give the other person time to talk. Creating space for listening is crucial for getting through difficult talks at work.

5. Put yourself in their shoes

Painful as it might sometimes be to look at a situation from someone else’s perspective, try to consider what it might be like to hear what you are going to say and how the other person will process it. If, when in conversation, you see the other person having a difficult time emotionally, give them space to feel what they are feeling and reassurance that you respect them. 

6. Always speak from your own perspective

Using “I” statements allows you not to become antagonistic. Avoid speaking in ways that feel like put-downs and definitely do not give the impression you are speaking for a group as that can be off-putting. Using the “I” opens up your feelings on someone and their actions without becoming accusatory. 

7. Come from a place of clarity

Don’t rely on hearsay, or dive into who said what. Instead, try to have the facts as you understand them, with the acknowledgment that the person with whom you are engaging might not see them in exactly the same way. Try to find places you can agree and dismiss things that are contentious in favor of what you can both verify as undoubtedly true.

8. Find a resolution or action steps

If there is an issue that can be resolved, try not to push it down the line. If possible, come prepared with solutions and try to be open to ones that others propose. If there isn’t an easy solution at the time, try to work out action steps that are measurable and have timelines, so that you can easily follow progress toward resolution.

9. Find ways to connect again

Following up on an awkward meeting is a good way to make sure similar situations do not arise in the future. Check-in with others to see how they are doing. If there is still some tension, perhaps suggest meeting outside of the work environment, perhaps in a group activity, to take the pressure off the conversational element. Hopefully, you can connect more personally and deescalate any building tensions or resentments.

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