4 Steps to Handle Crucial Conversations Successfully

by | Communication, Emotional Intelligence

No matter how badly we may be tempted, it’s important not to avoid having those difficult and crucial conversations. 

What are crucial conversations? 

These are those high impact, high emotion conversations. To be clear, these aren’t always the knock-out, screaming, arguing convos. They’re any conversation where something is at stake. 

We find these so difficult because the outcome of the conversation doesn’t just impact the result we’re seeking, but of the relationship with that person going forward. 

Examples of difficult conversations at work could be giving feedback to a coworker, talking to your boss about your performance, going to a job interview, or having to explain a mistake that was made to your team. For more details on what crucial conversations are and why they are important, check out this quick video.  

The bottom line is, these convos are going to come up. The key is learning how to navigate them successfully.  Here are the 4 steps to handling crucial conversations like a pro! 

Step 1: Go in with the right mindset

This is where your high EQ (i.e. self awareness and self management) come into play. You should know yourself well enough to know what convos elicit which emotions – whether that is fear, nervousness, frustration, impatience, etc. 

By knowing this in advance, you can prepare yourself before you go into the convo so you have the right mindset. Put yourself in a positive headspace. Get plenty of rest, hydrate, make sure you’re not hungry (or in my case hangry), be ready to listen, and keep an open mind. 

It also helps if you set a specific objective of the conversation so that if you feel yourself getting off track you can refocus. For example, if you have a development conversation with your boss, maybe your objective is simply to share that you’re interested in learning more within your department. 

Step 2: Manage your non-verbals 

Managing your non-verbals is key in any convo but particularly in a crucial conversation because any misinterpretation can cause the situation to escalate or go in a direction you weren’t intending. If you’re not a pro at managing all of your non-verbals yet then focus on these top 3 immediately. 

You also need to pay attention to the other person’s non-verbals to see how they’re reacting to you. For instance, if the person appears to be getting angry, upset, saddened, or just shuts down, that is a sign your convo is not going well and you need to adjust. 

For the convo to be successful, both parties need to stay engaged. 

Let’s say you’re talking to a coworker about a project you’re working on together. You may be asking them questions about their ideas but you notice their body language or facial expressions are becoming upset. 

This is a sign something is wrong and you want to ask about it rather than just continue on without addressing it. Maybe they feel you’re trying to dismiss their ideas or don’t understand what you’re asking. 

Get clear with that person and even explain your intent in asking these questions. That way you can continue to collaborate, rather than leaving the meeting with either of you having a bad taste in your mouth, which might lead to problems on this particular project and/or difficulties working together down the line. 

Step 3: Know when to take a break 

One of the reasons difficult conversations are so difficult is that we simply can’t prepare for everything that might come up. Sometimes comments are made, or questions are asked that catch us off guard. 

Maybe the other person reacts in a way you weren’t anticipating. Maybe you’re starting to notice your own emotions building up and you’re worried you might say or do the wrong thing. This is when you need to take a break. 

Don’t feel pressured to keep the conversation going if it’s starting to derail and you aren’t sure how to get it back on track. Simply ask for a break in the convo and come back to it later. A break could be just 5 minutes to splash water on your face, 20 minutes to grab a snack and water, or even regroup the next day. 

The opportunity you get in the break is to give yourself time to think. Process what happened and prepare your next move to finishing the conversation successfully (i.e. achieving your objective and not damaging your relationship). 

Sometimes, it isn’t always possible to take a break – like in an interview or meeting when you’re asked a question. You still can say ‘let me think about that for a minute’ and use that quick 60 seconds to gather your thoughts and do your best to respond. The better you get at impromptu speaking the easier it will be to recover in these 60 second windows. 

Step 4: Reflect afterwards – but don’t over think. 

So, did you meet the objective you wanted when you prepared for the conversation? If not, what could you have done differently, and do you need to set up a follow up meeting? Maybe you did meet the objective, but you’re worried about how the other person feels afterwards? Or, everything went really well and you want to know how to repeat that success. 

The reflection is key in knowing what you did right and maybe what you want to rethink before your next conversation. Remember, it isn’t just about this one interaction but the relationship you have with this person. Did you maintain trust and credibility with the other party? 

Now, on the flip side, the key is NOT to overthink everything. 

You can’t go back and change what happened so don’t do the ‘I wish I said this, or I meant to say that’ spiraling. Following up doesn’t mean going back to this person to make a great point you thought of later if it won’t help your objective or your relationship. 

All you can do now is store the information for future preparation when it is time for your next conversation with this person, or similar conversation like this. 

It is a learning opportunity. 

What did you learn about yourself and the other person that you can use in the next crucial conversation? 

Now you have the 4 steps to handle crucial conversations successfully. Keep working on your communication and EQ skills to build better relationships, become a better leader, and help advance your career. 

Good luck! Share your results in the comments.

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I’m Jovita

I started this business because I am so passionate about developing others and helping them grow beyond where they could have on their own.

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