The Work Conversations We Dread the Most, According to Research

When we need to have a difficult conversation, we tend to postpone it.. Letting the situation worsen.. Why?

Having been on both sides of the barrier, I can tell that a dreaded conversation is difficult for both sides. For example, you might find difficult to ask for a pay rise, but in general, it is also difficult for the manager to answer such request.

The best scenario is when both come out of the discussion happy. Winning and make the other lost is never a victory. The battle is won, but the chances of winning the war are now fading dangerously.

As the article says it very well, in fact, most people strive for this win-win.

Article here (with graphs):

The next time you head into a conversation you’re dreading, rest assured that the other party is probably equally uncomfortable. Better yet, your counterpart may even go out of his or her way to make you feel at ease.

These findings come from a recent survey conducted by Fractl in which we asked nearly 1,100 people about difficult conversations at work.

Approaching tough conversations with a combative mentality, where one person wins and one loses, is a common mistake that often results in neither party feeling satisfied. Yet our study found that most people actually plan on being agreeable and considerate when walking into a difficult conversation — nearly 66% of respondents told us that they’re likely to go out of their way to make the other person feel comfortable. The same number said that they’re likely to concede that they played a role in creating an uncomfortable situation, while 81% will acknowledge that there are multiple perspectives. More than 75% of respondents said that they’re likely to be direct and concise. That’s all good news for someone who’s about to have a difficult conversation; you can rest assured that most people are starting from a collaborative mindset.

As you can see, taking a combative approach and assuming the other person is “out to get you” is probably misguided.

What’s more, your counterpart is probably just as nervous as you are. Which conversations really make people squirm? Negotiating a raise was the most distressing: 58% of respondents feel uncomfortable having this discussion. We found people feel most comfortable apologizing for a mistake or discussing a lack of clear direction.

Women reported more discomfort around negotiating a raise than men did, with more than 66% of female respondents feeling very or somewhat uncomfortable. Just over half of men shared that sentiment.

Managers should take particular note of the data showing that even if you walk out of a challenging discussion feeling good about the outcome, your employee may not share your outlook. Our respondents were significantly more likely to feel satisfied with the outcome of a difficult conversation when they were the higher-ranking employee. More than 75% felt satisfied with the outcome of a conversation with a direct report, compared to 46% feeling somewhat or completely satisfied with the results of a discussion with a supervisor.

So how can you have more productive conversations that end with both parties feeling satisfied?

A majority of people (85%) told us they are likely to prepare for a tough conversation. This is a step in the right direction, but how you prepare is important. Be sure to:

Determine what you want to get out the conversation, but “don’t go in planning to ‘win’ the conversation,” says employee relations consultant Fran Sepler. “If you want a raise, for instance, you may need to start with other goals, such as having your work fully appreciated, having input into your compensation, and making sure you’re being paid equitably.”

Do your homework on your worth. Knowing how valuable and marketable you are will give you more confidence to ask for a raise and alleviate fears around negotiations. Make a strong case for your pay increase by coming to the table armed with a list of your contributions to the company and salary survey data on comparable roles.
Treat the conversation as two people working together to solve a problem. Executive coach Kristi Daniels recommends using this simple framework, from the book Powerful Conversations, which gives both sides ownership over the conversation and outcome:

What’s Up: Tell your side of the situation and ask the other person how they see it.
What’s So: Get to the facts, and remove any emotional charge from the conversation. Discuss the impact on each of you, the team, and the larger organization. Ask the other person what they think.
What’s Possible: Discuss possible solutions or alternatives, and ask the other person for the same.
Let’s Go: Commit on both sides to taking action with accountability included.
Notice how each step of this framework includes input from the other person, which will ensure that both parties feel heard and understood. This applies to your pre-conversation preparation too, when you should look beyond your own perspective and think about how the other person views the issue. You’ll have greater success by showing that you’ve considered several perspectives.

During the conversation, pause your own agenda to really listen to the other person’s side. Karen Hough, CEO of ImprovEdge, says, “When we’re nervous or scared, we rush to tell, fix, or manage.” Aim to diffuse the emotional charge, hear the other person, and come out with a solution. According to Hough, “It’s amazing how often a quick reset on the approach totally changes the way a person deals with their boss and creates incredible outcomes — raises, promotions, and strong relationships.”

Kerry Jones is the Inbound Marketing Manager at Fractl, where she specializes in content marketing featuring their proprietary research.

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