Mastering the Awkward Conversation in 5 Easy Steps

Like death and taxes, you can’t escape the awkward conversation. No matter what business you’re in, one day you will eventually have to sit someone down for a good old fashioned confrontation. And while these uncomfortable chats are never enjoyable, they can be relatively painless and hyper effective if properly executed.

The subject of the conversation doesn’t really matter. Whether it’s regarding an infraction, complaint, or termination, most awkward exchanges follow a similar pattern and thus can be navigated using a fairly standardized method, which I’ve laid out below.

1. Acknowledge the situation: Awkward conversations should be anything but subtle. It’s important to acknowledge from the beginning that something unsavory is about to occur. Allow your counterpart to secure the proper footing and brace himself accordingly. “Mark, I want to talk to you about something that will probably be a little awkward.” Nobody enjoys being confronted, and so it’s paramount to maintain a high level of honesty and transparency. Acknowledge the situation and move quickly to Step 2.

2. Get right to it: Sugarcoating is for candy, not for awkward conversations. Think of the classic Band-Aid example: a quick and precise rip is far kinder than a slow and drawn out tear. Skip the chatter and immediately get to the issue at hand.

3. Share the floor: Remember, this is a conversation. Ask the other person if they understand what you’ve expressed and allow her the opportunity to respond. It’s important that both parties have a chance to share their perspective. This step is particularly important if the conversation centers around an accusation.

4. Respond and wrap up: While both parties should be able to openly share their thoughts, you must not forget that you are the one who is in control of this conversation. Respond to any unresolved issues, make sure your point is understood, and wind things down. Awkward conversations should be as swift as possible.

5. Layout a plan of action: Nobody should leave an awkward conversation without an understanding of the next steps. Be sure to layout an actionable plan and ensure both parties have clarity. Who will be responsible for what? What future steps need to occur for this issue to be resolved? Be direct and clear, precise and thorough. Ambiguity should be avoided at all costs.

Listen, nobody likes having an awkward conversation—they aren’t fun. But if you’re going to excel, you must be capable of executing them with accuracy and care. Being a great communicator means understanding how to successfully navigate all types of situations, awkward or not.

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