We have multiple communication skills training programs on how to have difficult conversations. They all revolve around being direct but empathetic, objective but understanding, and being ready to ask questions and listen well. Sometimes, however, a difficult conversation is better put aside…at least for the time being.
When is it better to delay a difficult conversation? Here are some of the reasons from communications skills training experts why you might not want to initiate a difficult conversation right away:
- Emotions.You are too emotionally involved. For example, it would be better to postpone the discussion if you are upset, defensive, overwhelmed, angry, frustrated, ashamed, disgusted or obsessed. Settle down and wait until you can talk without losing your temper or truly listening. You need to be able to solve the problem, not add to it.
- Learning.There is little to be achieved because the problem will likely take care of itself. Sometimes, rather than point out a mistake, it is better to let the employee discover it on their own, recognize natural consequences and take the steps to resolve the situation without your intervention. Think of it as providing a valuable learning experience.
- Perspective.Your perspective is jaded. Think about your relationship with this employee. Are you apt to judge more for what they do wrong than what they do right? Do you really want to support this employee’s growth or are you more interested in being right again? Are you ready to ask the questions that could help the employee learn? And will you have the patience to listen carefully and thoughtfully to their answers?
- Timing.The timing is not right. Difficult conversations need to be scheduled when there is some guarantee of privacy and time to reach a satisfactory conclusion. If the team is working toward a deadline and you’re needed to solve one crisis after another, you won’t have the time or focus to handle the conversation in a meaningful way. Or if your employee has to leave shortly because they need to pick up a child at day care, don’t try to rush it.
In the cases above, it is better not to have the difficult conversation. It is better to wait so that when you do talk together, your message is delivered in a positive and helpful way and you can get the desired results.