How to Stay Authentic During Difficult Conversations

A manager’s or leader’s week often includes at least one potentially difficult situation or conversation. A vendor may be late delivering. An employee may not have met their goals for the quarter. The staff might have low engagement scores that need to be addressed. These things happen. Too often, managers may be well intended when addressing the “tough stuff”, but their emotions hamstring them, words don’t come out right, and the conversation does not go as well as it could have.

How can managers stay true to themselves, stay on topic and manage their emotions?

First, accept that this happens to everyone. Emotions are a natural response to pressure or stress. That’s the amygdala in the brain doing its job (fight or flight reflex). Professional athletes, actors and musicians all feel some nerves before big events. If a person wasn’t a little nervous, then that would be a real problem. The keys for to managing this are to prepare, be aware of it during the moment, and to review performance.

To prepare, take a sheet of paper and divide it in half. On one side write down any thoughts or feelings you might have about the situation you’re feeling. Tap in to whatever frustration, disappointment or nervousness you might have. Then, on the other side of the paper write out how you might best professionally express each of those feelings or thoughts. Giving words and phrases to your feelings equips you to stay true to the topic and in control of those emotions.

During the discussion, be sure to match your words to your thoughts and feelings. Continue the process by taking brief notes about your thoughts before you share them in the meeting. Be sure to consider the potential impact of your words before you share them.

Finally, review how you did after the meeting. Were there thoughts you didn’t get to address? Did any of your ideas come out too emotional or not fully formed? Really take time to assess your own performance in the meeting.

With the proper training, people can stay more true to themselves and the topic. That authenticity will lead to better performance management and credibility. Many great managers can do these steps without having to actively think of them. It can become a reliable skill.

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