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How to build the skills to have difficult conversations in the workplace

As social creatures, it’s natural to feel a sense of trepidation, or even full-blown anxiety, when you know that a high-stakes conversation is on the cards.

While avoidance is an understandable reaction, the respite is generally short-lived, and the consequences of not engaging with what needs to be said and heard can be significant.

At work and in our personal relationships, there’s a far greater expectation nowadays that we are willing and able to have timely conversations about scary or uncomfortable topics – but not everyone has this skill set.

Mastering critical, tricky conversations is an essential life skill, and the good news is all of us can get better at it.

There’s a particular mix of people skills and knowledge that you need to navigate through tough conversations. What you want to be able to do effectively is work collaboratively towards the best outcomes, while listening to others and considering their perspectives.

While we can never be utterly certain of where a difficult conversation may lead, we can learn to conduct ourselves in ways that will ensure that the encounter goes as well as possible.

From junior staff to senior management level, it’s vital that people build their skills to handle hard conversations.

Shying away from them only feeds emotions such as resentment and anger, which degrades teamwork and collaboration. It can also lead to missed opportunities which can come at high costs to individuals and organisations.

Whether or not you are expected to be adept at hard conversations in your workplace, most people are interested in having these skills as part of their personal development.

Mastering critical conversations between parents and children, life partners, and even between friends can deepen bonds and enhance the authenticity of the important relationships that sustain our well-being.