As a manager, having difficult conversations comes with the territory. I’ve worked with others on difficult career transitions, delivered disappointing news, and addressed concerns over under-performance. It’s never simple, but I’ve found that it doesn’t have to be difficult.

As a quick tip if you find yourself in need of having a difficult conversation, don’t “prime” the topic with the person you’re speaking with.

In other words, don’t start with comments like, “this is going to be difficult,” or “I don’t want to be a jerk, but…”. Comments such as these only serve to tighten up the other person’s defenses before you’ve even started the conversation. If it begins with defensiveness, it’s incredibly difficult to lower those defenses.

In my view, “priming” difficult conversations is a defense mechanism. Perhaps we want the other person to empathize with the difficult position we’re in, but that’s rarely the result of “priming”. When I’ve been on the receiving end of those tough talks and the speaker “primed” the conversation, I could tell he was uncomfortable, which made me uncomfortable as well. I was immediately on edge, ready to defend myself against whatever “jerk” things he was about to tell me.

Instead, keep your initial comments brief, and dive into speaking directly and clearly. Don’t give into discomfort or nerves. Deliver your remarks with honesty, ensure the other person understands what you’re saying, and move on.

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