By Jim Wong, CPA | November 4, 2015

“The urge to blame is based . . . on the fear of being blamed.” ― Douglas Stone

In today’s workplace climate, many of us have been involved in conversations with co-workers, bosses or other professional peers that may become uncomfortable at times. Whether it’s a conversation about an unrealistic request or one that consists of a conflict-resolution situation, these discussions aren’t usually easy.

In my experience, there have been times when I prepared for a conversation ahead of time – only to come out of it with a different outcome. I didn’t always ‘stick to my guns.’ I think that’s a characteristic that’s important for confident professionals to possess. Often, many of us can be quick to please others and ignore our own needs. While that may seem like the right thing to do at the time, it could end up hurting you or the business in the long run.

It’s best to know how to navigate a tricky or tough conversation — no matter the profession, be it accounting, finance or IT. In fact, there are ways to develop such skillsets so that you’re prepared to stand your ground when you’re next put in a tough position.

I came across a recent Forbes article that covers some tips on guiding you through tough conversations. I discuss a few of them and some thoughts of my own in the 4 Strategies to Guide You through Tough Conversations below.

1. Know your make or breaks.
The first part of approaching a difficult conversation with a co-worker or boss is knowing your make or breaks, or deal-breakers – the things you will not budge on. Some examples of deal-breakers might be working on the weekends, missing your child’s birthday, traveling abroad etc. These are the things that stem from your personal values; the things that make you who you are. If you compromise these values, you will end up costing your own happiness. Therefore, when you enter a conversation where your make or breaks are tested if you know ahead of time what you won’t compromise on, you’ll have a better chance sticking to them.

2. Know your value.
One of the most important realizations a person can make when faced with a tough conversation is knowing that your value is determined by the quality of your work and not the quantity of requests you say ‘yes’ to. If you know you’re a valued member of the team it’s OK to politely decline an outlandish request. Whoever is asking you for said request may be testing you or trying to push your limits unfairly. When you begin to develop your self-confidence and learn your own value, you will find that you’ll become more comfortable speaking up, taking risks and facing your fears head on.

3. Know your limit with personal favors.
So, you’ve stuck to your guns and decided to be firm, then you find yourself in yet another tough situation — your boss or co-worker asks you to perform a project or complete a task as a “favor” to them. You want to be a team player, but you have to be careful not to get taken advantage of. Maintaining a delicate balance between this is imperative. Of course, you want to do favors for people from time to time. However, if doing personal favors for people gets out of hand and it starts impeding your work performance, you need to better manage these requests. Remember to stay civil and professional – and politely decline. Stay true to your values and make or breaks.

4. Know when to say ‘no.’ 
You might think it’s impossible to say ‘no’ to a request a boss or co-workers asks of you, but there’s a small trick that can help you politely decline. Ask where the request or project falls in line with your current priority list. Mention that in order to complete the task, you’ll have to take something else off of your plate. Then, follow that up with asking which project that should be. You’re essentially turning your ‘no’ into a positive response. It shows you’re dedicated to your current workload and that could be compromised if you add anything else to that list.

Having difficult conversations is unescapable, but they’re not impossible to get through. Instead of backing down, try sticking to your guns next time with these helpful tips.

Do you have other suggestions for staying firm in tough conversations? Comment below and let us know!

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