Tips on Navigating Difficult Conversations

I learned some lessons from a difficult phone call today.  Here’s what happened:

A potential on-call employee was waiting by the phone for me to call her in to the office and start work on a project I had verbally committed to letting her help on; everything was in place except for the paperwork.  Then, something happened that influenced me to call her back and pull the rug out from under her:

  1. I was made aware of a neighboring, full-time employee (who was already trained on the software I was using) who needed work to do.
    1. It is my company’s current policy to give work to full-time employees before farming it out to on-call employees.
    2. The on-call girl wanted more money than we had originally offered for the work required and wasn’t already familiar with the software.

In the end, the call went alright.  She didn’t seem to be angry or hurt, but she did seem a little dazed & confused.  My tone was very stoic throughout the call as I fumbled through the reasons why I was taking “her work” away from her.


  • People are tough.
    • Give them the facts straight and let them find a way to deal with them.
  • This is going to sound bad, but–don’t care TOO much. Over-caring leads to sugar-coating and beating around the bush and ultimately a conversation that just makes no progress and everyone uncomfortable. 
    • By nature, I try so hard NOT to offend people that I am at risk of saying something I don’t mean in order to assuage the situation.
    • People will respect you if you keep your composure.  They might not know how to act and look to you as a guide.  Model confidence and they will tend to react in kind.
      • Some people desperately appreciate this type of anchor in their moment of potential logical abandonment.
    • By not sweating the small stuff, you allow everyone involved to see and accept the situation for what it is–life, and move on with an optimistic view of the future.
  • On the other hand, don’t be afraid to show SOME emotion.
    • Bad news is a big deal.  Don’t be stoic, like I was.  Express your true sentiment through your tone of voice. When the time is right, emphasize your gratitude and positivity through an optimistic tone, especially as you discuss the future.
    • Not landing a job is NOT a life or death situation, even though it might feel that dramatic.  Everyone just has to remember, that “Life Happens.”

Take these helpful hints with a large grain of salt.  I don’t know if this is all true but those are the thought I had after I hung up the phone.


About bryantanner

I'm obsessed with learning via the appropriate technology. My professional mission is to effectively deliver instruction to learners in a way that yields the greatest results for all stakeholders involved.
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