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We all come to a point in our careers where we’re going to be forced to have a difficult conversation. Difficult conversations may take place with a customer, a prospect, a coworker, a manager or an employee. Even though most of us dread difficult conversations, they are what make us grow and press us to be a better version of ourself. 

The reason no one wants to have these conversations is that there’s always a risk. There is a chance that your professional relationship will suffer or end. If the conversation doesn’t go as planned, you are risking potential revenue from a prospect or customer. The way to prepare for a difficult conversation depends who is being confronted. 

In the first example, you have a subject who is already prepared to have the conversation. Typically, this is manager, employee or co worker. It could be a customer with whom you may have struggled in the past. In any of these cases, both parties are prepared for the conversation. The best thing to do in that scenario is to set up expectations and ground rules.  If it’s likely to get heated— and almost any difficult conversation can— ground rules laid out in advance will keep the temperature down. An example ground rule might be to let the person know that you need to be heard, but that you will also hear them. “Listen to what I have to say, and in return, I will do the same for you.” Calling out the need for mutual respect in advance will go a long way toward setting the tone.  It’s also important to acknowledge in advance that both parties may not agree. ”We may not agree when this conversation is over, but I think it’s important we both have a thorough understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish.” When both parties consent to the ground rules, you can then proceed with your difficult conversation. 

In the world of difficult conversations, that’s the easy one. The second type of difficult conversation is the bigger problem. This is the type of conversation that takes place with someone who isn’t prepared to be confronted about a difficult topic, or a person who won’t respect the rules as laid out. Those two categories are the same because in both scenarios you have a defensive party. When you blindside somebody with a difficult conversation, defense mechanisms go up; likewise, when someone doesn’t agree to the rules of difficult conversations, their defense mechanisms are up. 

In this situation— no matter who the person is—it is your responsibility to set the tone for that conversation. The number one way to do that is through empathy. If I’m bringing up a difficult subject to someone, it is my job to have empathy for that person. I have to understand that they may feel blindsided. During the discussion, it is my responsibility to express how I feel, and verbally acknowledge and demonstrate understanding of how my subject feels. We may have a difference of opinions and that’s okay. Frankly, individual perspectives are what make us all unique. But when it comes to sales and it comes to business, as the sales professional it is my responsibility to demonstrate the highest level of empathy and learn how to have a civilized conversation when discussing a topic that is challenging and emotional. 

Difficult conversations take place in sales on a daily basis, and the skills you develop by having difficult conversations in sales are going to take you so much further in life because difficult conversations are a part of life. But if you set ground rules and expectations and demonstrate the highest level of empathy, you’ll be able to navigate any difficult conversation you encounter.

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