Turning a difficult conversation into a brilliant one

Turning a difficult conversation into a brilliant one

At IHG®, we believe that you can’t perform at your best without the right tools and a supportive environment. As part of our promise to give you room to grow, we regularly invite hotel and corporate colleagues around the world to take part in Open Online Courses. This gives everyone the opportunity to take part in a real time, social development experience. Most importantly - it is a great way to bring us all together!

As part of our series of Open Online Courses, we have been learning about how to turn a difficult conversation at work into a brilliant one.


The TERA model


Conversations with colleagues, managers or direct reports aren’t always easy. But, getting them right is crucial if you are to achieve your goals and get the best from your team.

To turn a difficult conversation into a brilliant one, we believe that preparation is key. This can be done in 3 easy steps.  

Step 1: Mentally prepare

Start by thinking about the goal of the conversation first. What do you want to achieve?  It may help to remember the process of Non Violent Communication:

  1. Identify your own needs
  2. Sense the needs of other person
  3. Provide empathy
  4. Express your own needs
  5. Explore solutions that meet both parties’ needs
  6. Translate those solutions into a positive action language

Approaching certain work conversations can make us feel anxious. These feelings of anxiousness can often be attributed to certain basic needs not being met. By recognising which need it is, we can understand what the preferred outcome of the conversation might be.

To help you, we’ve compiled a list of some basic needs we all share. Some are more relevant to a work situation than others:

  1. Autonomy- Goals, values, choice, freedom, independence, space and spontaneity
  2. Integrity- Authenticity, honesty and presence
  3. Meaning- Celebration of life and fulfilling dreams, clarity, competence, consciousness, contribution, creativity, effectiveness, growth, hope, learning, purpose, self-expression, stimulation and understanding
  4. Social - Acceptance, affection, appreciation, belonging, cooperation, communication, closeness, community, companionship, compassion, consideration, empathy, inclusion, intimacy, love, mutuality, nurturing, respect/self-respect, security, stability, support, to know and be known, to understand and be understood, trust and warmth
  5. Physiological- Air, food, movement, exercise, rest, sleep, sexual expression, safety, shelter, touch and water
  6. Spiritual- Joy, humour, beauty, harmony, inspiration, order and peace


Step 2: Emotionally prepare

Here’s an example of situation that may lead to a difficult conversation: 

You’re presenting in front of a group that you don’t know and your manager keeps interrupting, by raising points you were going to make later in the presentation. You’re angry with your manager for this behaviour and want to raise this in a meeting with them.

We have to accept that we’re all emotional beings and, because of that, it’s important that we learn to express our emotions in a way that the other person can understand, choosing language carefully and trying not to state emotions as facts. We also have to remember that the person opposite us is an emotional being too.

As part of your emotional preparation, it might help to think about these questions: 

  • What do you feel about the person and the situation?
  • What do you feel about what happened that has led to this conversation?
  • What is the person likely to feel during the discussion?

In the example, you may feel angry when you see your manager as they have made you feel small and inappropriate during the presentation, but actually it’s the basic needs of consideration and respect that are key here.  By recognising this difference you will be better prepared emotionally.

Step 3: Physically prepare

After mental and emotional preparation, we mustn’t forget to prepare physically. This can be as simple as leaving enough time between meetings to make sure you can focus your mind.

If you’re nervous about a meeting, try adopting a ‘Power Pose’ before the meeting and hold that pose for about two minutes. Research has shown that these poses lower stress levels and make people feel more confident. You can find examples of the poses and further information in this article by the Wall Street Journal.

Simply by preparing mentally, emotionally and physically, we believe that we can all turn a difficult conversation into a brilliant one!


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