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The art of workplace conversations

Whatever your position in the workplace, you'll find yourself involved in a conversation you would rather not be having

We are not all confident speakers, particularly in awkward situations, so how can you make sure your potentially difficult conversations go as well as you want?

The conversation could be asking for a long-awaited pay rise, reporting a colleague’s inappropriate behaviour to their line manager, giving an employee their notice of redundancy, or telling your boss you have failed to complete work within a deadline.

Whether you are talking to someone whose wages you pay, a colleague on the same pay scale as you or the head of the company, some conversations can be difficult. Unless you go prepared and proceed with confidence, you risk embarrassment or not getting across the point you are trying to make.

The first thing to do is to go prepared. Planning what you want to say, and even practising how you are going to say it, will go a long way to helping you succeed in your goal.

Begin by writing down what you want to achieve from the conversation; for example, ‘I want a decent pay rise’ or ‘I need to get my line manager to acknowledge how badly a colleague has been performing.’ Having a target for your conversation can help to keep you focussed when you are knee-deep in words.

Next, note down some bullet points to prompt your conversation and make sure you take these into the meeting with you. For optimum performance, you could try reading these out in private, to yourself or a friend, and practising what you are going to say.

You should also ensure you plan the meeting, as in the time and place, so it is to your advantage. Do not ask to speak to your manager just before the end of the day, as you will end up rushing the conversation.

Ensure it takes place in a private room – not the break area – and that you both have ample time for a lengthy engagement.

During the meeting, try to speak clearly. Take deep breaths if you are nervous and refer to your notes if you are not thinking clearly. Thinking before you speak is always a good idea, and remember to use appropriate language – you do not want the conversation to end in a shouting match.

Finally, try to be empathetic by putting yourself in the place of the other person. If your boss is irritable, it could be because they are overworked or facing stress at home; if a colleague is not pulling their weight, it could be because they are struggling with the workload.

Everyone has their reasons for what they do. If you can acknowledge your own failings in addition to those of others, you will be in a better position to make the necessary changes.

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