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Inevitable conflict: Navigating difficult conversations professionally

Resigning your position and giving two weeks’ notice? Firing an employee or delivering a bad performance review? Turning down a job offer or having to back out of a commitment?

Eventually, we are all faced with situations that require difficult conversations. For many of us, these conversations can be stressful and cause angst, but they are conversations that must be had. It may seem surprising, but handling these types of conversations professionally and effectively will go a long way in building your reputation and personal brand. Conversely, making bad choices in these situations will burn bridges and potentially be career-limiting.Inevitable conflict: Navigating difficult conversations professionally

Due to what I have learned to call “Selfish Passivity”, far too many individuals, including myself, naturally want to run from the smallest of conflicts. Often unknowingly, we choose to damage business relationships, tarnish our reputation, and lose credibility rather than tell the truth. However, if we are intentional in our dealings with inevitable conflict, we can turn these difficult conversations into positive growth.

My role at MATRIX gives me a unique perspective on this topic. Every year my recruiting teams guide thousands of technology professionals through the process of interviewing for a new job. We coach people each day on resigning professionally and also hear every excuse in the book in terms of declining interviews and rejecting job offers previously accepted. But leading recruiting is also running a sales organization, which means I know all too well about firing people you care for and the disappointment caused by resignations handled inappropriately.

It is your career. Conflict is inevitable. Relationships do matter.

Below are a few tips on handling difficult conversations professionally.

Tell the truth & Do the right thing

It sounds so simple but when we know our actions are going to disappoint someone, telling the truth can be hard to do. Whether it’s quitting a job, changing your mind on a big decision, delivering bad news, or backing out of a commitment, the best thing you can do is tell the truth. The other person will not always like what you say but they will respect the fact you were honest with them. Admit and own your mistakes. You will build a character of integrity and sow relationships built upon trust.

Do it in a timely fashion

Always give two weeks’ notice. If you feel wronged by an employer, the best revenge is to act with character. Stooping to their level and leaving them high and dry may make you feel better in the short term, but it will not help you sleep more peacefully and can come back to bite you in the future. Communicate in real time. If someone is not performing to expectations, let them know. Don’t blindside someone assuming they should have seen it coming.

Don’t feel guilty

Everyone makes mistakes. It is going to happen. Everyone has to make tough and unpopular decisions. Handle them like a professional. Address the inevitable conflict and difficult conversations professionally and move on. If you do the right thing, your reputation and personal brand will flourish. Don’t limit tomorrow’s potential by avoiding conflict today. If I can handle conflict and difficult conversations, you can too.

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