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Make difficult conversations not so difficult.

A staggering 85 percent of teams face conflict in the workplace. Nearly 30 percent of those conflicts directly result in reduced productivity.

As a Business Growth Coach, I’ve encountered many entrepreneurs who struggle to initiate difficult conversations in their companies. It usually stems from one of two scenarios:

First, there’s the guilt-ridden entrepreneur who asks, “How can I deliver honest feedback without crushing this person’s spirits?” On the other hand, there’s the entrepreneur who embraces conflict a bit too comfortably. They might say, “I don’t enjoy confrontation, but until we become a billion-dollar company… .”

High-impact conversations are psychological and can trigger emotional responses. In growth times or in crisis times (for some companies, life oscillates between the two), these high-emotion moments tend to manifest more frequently.

Building a business with the potential to 10X doesn’t stop at processes, strategy, hiring, or cash flow management. The ability to engage in, and successfully emerge on the positive end of, hard conversations either contributes to or hinders a company’s growth.

So, whether you’re facing a challenging dialogue with a direct report, a business partner, an investor, or your peers, here are three strategies to master the art of difficult conversations.

1. Create a Safe Space

We hear the term “safe space” everywhere lately. But what is it, and how can we actually create one?

We all value a place where we can freely share our thoughts and concerns without fear of judgment or consequence. It’s part of the human experience, and it applies to business contexts, too. At its core, a “safe space” is an environment — a feeling in the air.

To create one, start by giving your undivided attention. When someone is speaking, be fully present and attentive. Forget about your busy schedule or the next point you want to make. Show that you genuinely value their words and opinions.

Then, lead with empathy. It’s easy to get caught up in our own perspectives, but difficult conversations require understanding. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see things from their point of view. The other party will quickly feel understood.

When we’re able to achieve this, our businesses can overcome daily obstacles with greater ease and progress through constructive dialogue.

2. Find Common Ground

There is no successful outcome to a difficult conversation unless you first establish common ground.

I’ll never forget the time I found myself in a critical meeting with a CEO who seemed more interested in his phone than our discussion. His entire leadership team of senior experts was in the room, but he wanted nothing to do with the (very significant) issue at hand. It felt as if this CEO was in one corner of the room while the entire C-suite sat in the opposite corner. Nobody looked at each other. Such a tense moment!

How did it get resolved? I focused my communication on one thing: Reiterating the shared objective everyone in the room had (a successful outcome that benefited the business). Identifying common ground — the “one thing” that everyone in that room equally wanted — reminded each person that they shared a collective purpose that mattered to them.

When you find yourself in a complicated conversation, reflect on the common ground that connects all parties. Finding that shared objective will pave the way forward.

3. Don’t Let Emotions Get the Best of You

The thing about emotions is: They are highly contagious. If you enter a difficult conversation with your emotions on your sleeve, the other party involved will likely get emotional, too. Things can get unproductive — fast.

To prevent that, pay attention to your tone of voice, body language, and choice of words. Non-verbal cues can have a major impact on how your message is received. Strive to maintain a composed demeanor, using a tone that conveys respect and openness.

Phrases like “I’m disappointed” or “You could’ve” can come across as accusatory. Instead, focus on stating facts, seeking their perspective, and sharing your experience.

However, if you notice the emotional intensity escalating to a point where it hinders productive communication, recognize when it’s time to pause the meeting. Remember, your mental health should never be compromised during these discussions.

Sometimes, it feels like navigating difficult discussions is part of a business owner’s job description. I personally spent years figuring out how to best handle these conversations. Applying key tactics helps — but none of the tactics work if you don’t adjust your mindset first.

My advice to all entrepreneurs: Don’t shy away from hard conversations. Look at them as catalysts for growth, enhancing both your business and personal development.

If you figure out how to 10X the success of difficult conversations, you can 10X the productivity, culture, and profitability of your company; I guarantee it!

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