Navigate Difficult Conversations With These Tips

difficult conversations

Navigating difficult conversations is a soft skill that salespeople may not value enough. Sure, they understand the importance of negotiation, handling objections and keeping customers happy. But a common thread runs through all of these: the potential for difficult conversations. Whether it’s an awkward exchange at an event or a heated discussion with a prospect over price, there are going to be many times when you find yourself in the middle of a conversation that isn’t comfortable.

Tips for difficult conversations

Forbes addressed this common experience, pointing out that “…difficult conversations are part of the territory, and even though it may be challenging to deal with them, they must be dealt with head-​on.” The publication gathered tips from members of the Young Entrepreneur Council and shared their proven techniques for handling these conversations. Below is just a sampling from the article.

Be direct and truthful, and use care

People appreciate honesty. By being honest and direct in your conversation, you establish yourself as trustworthy and professional. While you may worry that the other person won’t like what you’re saying, you can soften the impact by speaking with empathy and compassion. Rather than barking out your side of the conversation, approach your delivery as gently as possible. “In general, taking responsibility for anything directly eliminates any backlash or intense feelings by letting the other person know you understand your part in the problem and have considered every possible outcome,” explains Socialfix Media’s Terry Tateossian.

Address an issue ASAP

No one like having difficult conversations. But avoiding them doesn’t improve anything. And if you find a conversation veering into uncomfortable territory, don’t back off. Give yourself the opportunity to explore ideas and opinions through conversation and hopefully find common understanding.

Always keep your cool

Tough topics can lead to high emotions, especially when money is involved. It’s important you keep calm even when the other person doesn’t. “Navigating difficult conversations can be hard, but I've found keeping my cool to be a really strong tactic,” says LeadCoverage’s Kara Brown. “It's easy to get screechy or emotional when something hard comes up.” She suggests three things to keep cool: Be prepared and know your facts (especially when discussing financials), keep your voice low and speak slowly, and try to stick to three talking points.

If maintaining emotional control may be an issue for you, consider prepping for tough talks by role-​playing. Doing so can help you practice maintaining professionalism and responding appropriately even when emotions are high. Also consider working on your emotional intelligence.

Awareness is vital

When interacting with others, it’s important to be aware of how you’re coming across. It’s also important to be aware of the inherent differences in how people communicate and receive communication. As John Stoker explained in a Manage Smarter podcast, everyone has a different “style.” For improved communication, especially when having difficult conversations, “…recognize what the other person's style is by the mental visual, vocal and verbal cues they're sending you. And then match that style.”

Stoker also emphasizes the importance of body-​language awareness. Whether you realize it or not, emotions can drive body language. Even if you are speaking calmly and slowly, your gestures may come across as upset or aggressive. Be aware of your proximity to the other speaker and your hand gestures. “People are going to believe the nonverbal behavior more than the verbal behavior,” he points out.

Practice self-​care

After difficult conversations, don’t neglect your own feelings or emotions. If you find yourself stressed or upset after a discussion, honor those feelings, and take time to work through them. Your productivity and efficiency depend on a healthy emotional state and mindset. 

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions

Jessica Helinski

Jessica Helinski

Jessica is a senior research analyst for SalesFuel focusing on selling to SMB decision-​makers. She also reports on sales and presentation tips for SalesFuel Today. Jessica is a graduate of Ohio University.