We are a talkative culture. We like to make small talk, tell humorous stories, exchange ideas, and share gossip, but when it comes to difficult conversations, we hesitate. We squirm.

These conversations are stressful, whether the issue is job performance, unacceptable behavior, or denial of a request. We want to convey what we need to, but we are unsure how the other person will respond. Emotions sometimes run high, so we don’t know where the discussion will go.

Deal with it – Don’t delay the conversation, because unresolved issues fester and deteriorate. Some employees can choose to ignore a problem or a person to avoid a confrontation, but supervisors cannot, because uncomfortable discussions are part of managing.

Think ahead not only your perspective but also the other person’s. Know the points you want to make, and consider what questions your colleague is likely to ask and how you should respond. Thinking about your answers while you are talking often leads to poorly expressed thoughts. But don’t sound like a pre-recorded message either.

Maintain your poise – The other person might feel embarrassed, annoyed, or anxious because they feel under attack, which can trigger an angry outburst. Ignore the emotions, and don’t blurt out your own annoyance, which will escalate the tension.

Work collaboratively toward a resolution – Present the facts, the reason you are unhappy, and the potential consequences or implications of the actions that prompted the conversation. Then listen attentively to the other person. She might have information you are not aware of, and it might change your perception. Share your ideas and be willing to compromise.

Such conversations are not restricted to face-to-face communication. Discussions that begin in person frequently extend into written correspondence for various reasons, and a manager can do as much damage in an email as in a face-to-face encounter.

  • Stick to what you know to be the facts.
  • Leave the emotion out of the message so that you don’t heighten the tension between you and the reader.
  • Avoid sounding territorial, as in, “This should be my decision.” Instead, maintain your poise, take the high road, and sound collaborative.
  • Don’t be accusatory. Readers often will privately realize they were wrong without your verbal finger-pointing.

Uncomfortable conversations are rarely easy, but you can strengthen your credibility by remaining calm, being respectful, listening carefully, and showing empathy.