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Conflict Resolution Series: Tips for Approaching Delicate Subjects

Uncomfortable conversations are part of life. When we have to share bad news or redirect bad behavior, sometimes tough conversations must happen. Approaching delicate subjects is similar to conflict resolution in that it is better done with a level head and an awareness of what the other person might be feeling. Being able to connect and deliver delicate information without causing defensiveness or outrageous reactions is the same as preventing a conflict. There’s no reason delicate information can’t be shared without fall out.

Here are some tips for approaching delicate subjects with others:

Tip #1. Act accordingly Your presence should reflect the nature of the situation. Do not present as happy-go-lucky or use jokes when meeting with someone for a delicate conversation. It can feel like sabotage and being blindsided when your initial demeanor doesn’t fit the seriousness of the meeting. An example would be joking and making idle small talk prior to firing an employee.

Tip #2. Warn People If you must have a tough conversation, brace the person for what you are about to say. Let them know that a tough conversation is at hand and, if possible, let them know you are here to help them through it. An example could be sharing news of a negative health diagnosis.

Tip #3. Make a sandwich Tough information is generally best served like a sandwich. Tough information placed between two pieces of positive information. Open a conversation with something positive, share the difficult information, and close with something positive. An example would be redirecting poor employee behavior. Share a good trait that you appreciate from your staff, then share the issue at hand, and end with your confidence that they will make the changes easily.

Tip #4. Don’t make it awkward Delivering tough information or having a conversation about a delicate topic can get weird. Be sure to wrap things up or stay connected for the right amount of time. Some things are best delivered quickly and succinctly - such as a termination, whereas some things might require more time to help sort things out or answer questions. Make sure your presence is appropriate for the nature of the situation.

Delivering delicate information doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Generally, there is time to make a plan for how to share the information or news. Think the scenario through and choose a course of action that best suits the situation.

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