Author: Eve Ash

As long as people have to co-exist, there will be the need for awkward conversations. No doubt you are familiar with the types of discussions that you would prefer not to have. They make you feel a little bit anxious and uncomfortable; you might even put off having such a conversation due to the associated dread.

Nonetheless, these conversations are necessary and there are certain things to understand in order to achieve successful outcomes.

1. What kinds of discussions are awkward?

Awkward conversations usually involve delivering some unpleasant news.

For example, telling someone that their work isn’t up to the required standard, or the holiday leave they’ve requested can’t be approved. Possibly the most awkward and uncomfortable discussion is a dismissal interview, in which you are required to tell someone that they are no longer employed by your company.

The common element to all such situations is that you are expecting a negative reaction from the other person.

2. Why do we procrastinate?

The procrastination associated with an awkward discussion is due to the expected negative reaction.

Quite simply, most of us don’t enjoy being on the receiving end of anger, sadness or frustration and will go out of our way to avoid it. Sometimes we don’t even realise that we are avoiding the issue, yet we suddenly prioritise unimportant tasks.

Please note, however, that sometimes procrastination serves an important purpose as it allows you to mentally prepare yourself for an awkward discussion. The challenge is to not let it carry on for too long.

3. How do you approach the conversation?

You need to have a very clear understanding of the individual’s likely reactions.

Some things are universal, such as having the discussion in private. Consider the time of day – some people like to move these conversations to the end of the day so that the person can go home and consider the news without having to “tough it out” during the day. The opening line is also important – your tone and wording will convey a message, so you must make sure they carry your intended one. If you are expecting a highly emotional reaction, it may also be prudent to have a box of tissues in the room.

4. Barriers to successful discussions

A successful discussion is one in which the message is delivered clearly, with the recipient understanding the message and its implications before they leave the room.

Preparation is critical, as the most likely reaction will be defensiveness and anger. Bring the discussion down to bare facts and maintain a sincere approach.

Avoid talking about how difficult the conversation is for you. Inevitably, the conversation will be far more difficult for the other person. Don’t beat around the bush.

5. The required mindset

We often try to avoid awkward conversations, and end up procrastinating or building up unnecessary tension and fear. A better, more proactive mindset is to see these discussions as the first step to correcting a problem.

Keep an eye on the bigger picture. Understand that by bringing an issue to the surface and discussing it, there is a possibility of moving forward. Procrastination is the avoidance of discomfort, but tackling the issues directly will result in a more open and trusting environment in the long term.

6. Can we learn from videos?

It is amazing how much we can learn about the subtle people skills required to converse with people on uncomfortable issues simply by watching others.

By seeing what is the right (or wrong) way to deliver news you inevitably refer to your own approach and make adjustments. Sometimes the adjustments are large ones, like ensuring you focus on the other person’s needs, sometimes they are more subtle, such as watching the tone of the language you use.

Either way, seeing others in that situation is the best way to learn outside of trial and error.

Eve Ash has produced a wide range of videos to help people learn effective people management skills and communication skills. Now she is producing comedy films to help people at work Laugh, Discuss and Learn