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How To Have A Difficult Conversation

03/21/2017 04:58 EDT | Updated 03/21/2017 04:58 EDT
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Have you ever had to tell someone that they need to shower more, find somewhere else to live or they're too loud at work? Those kinds of conversations can be incredibly uncomfortable.

According to a recent study, the average employee spends 2.8 hours a week dealing with conflict, including uncomfortable discussions. I'm guessing that if they had to choose, most people would prefer to spend zero hours in uncomfortable situations. But that's really not an option.

We know there will be times when we need to sit down with someone and have one of those conversations that makes us both squirm. Those conversations can also be a bit dangerous, because the potential for them to damage the relationship you have with the other person is very high.

But with a little planning, the right attitude, and a few tips, those difficult conversations don't have to be relationship-killers.

Here are three things to keep in mind when having a difficult conversation:

1. Be prepared.

Before you have your conversation, you need to prepare. Prepare what you are going to say, how you will start the conversation, and how you will end it. You can't just "wing" this kind of discussion. Preparing will help ensure that you don't cause unnecessary damage to the relationship.

Write out what you want to say. But no matter how clear and respectful your conversation notes are, resist the urge to send them in an email instead of going through with the conversation. Having a difficult conversation by email never goes well. Have yours face-to-face, even if that means using Skype or FaceTime.

Choose the time and place wisely. The fewer people who know this conversation is happening the better, so be discrete. With that in mind, the office boardroom is not the best place, nor is the local coffee shop. Find a place where your conversation can go unnoticed as much as possible.

2. Be very clear about the issue.

Ask yourself, "What exactly is the problem?" Try to identify the issue in one sentence instead of giving a long explanation. If you can't state the issue in one simple sentence, then you're not clear on what the issue is.

Lack of focus will sabotage your discussion. For instance, if you need to tell a co-worker that their personal hygiene has to improve, the issue is that both clothes and bodies need to be washed regularly. It's far too easy to get lost in a side-discussion about perfumes, deodorants, culture, etc., and your point about washing clothes and bodies will be completely lost in that "noise."

By getting lost, you might send the message that the person needs to wear more (or less) cologne, which likely won't help with your goal of having them wash their clothing more often.

3. Begin with the end in mind

You've heard the expression "begin with the end in mind," from Dr. Stephen Covey. That means figuring out what the end result you want is and making sure you've designed a way to get there directly.

If I am going to have a conversation about washing bodies and clothing, my goal is that my employee (or co-worker) will agree to wash their clothing and body on a more regular basis. Perhaps you want them to take home any clothing they have stored at work, for a washing. Maybe you want them to stop wearing cologne. Perhaps you want them to shower after using the gym at lunch.

You need to know the end result you want before you begin the conversation. It doesn't mean that is what you will definitely agree to in the end, but it gives you a good place to begin your negotiations, if required.

Having difficult conversations is just that... difficult. But with a little practice, a little focus and clarity of intent, you can make sure that both parties feel respected, valued, and slightly less uncomfortable -- and you'll be much more likely to achieve your goal.

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