Challenging conversations are a part of everyday life — but they don’t have to derail your day. Young professionals in audit are often faced with challenging conversations because their interactions frequently involve engagement with very skilled, veteran professionals in the workplace. Newer auditors sometimes dread these conversations enough to avoid the interaction completely. No one wants to have an interaction that leaves them feeling inadequate, but there are ways to approach challenging conversations at work that prevent this from happening.
How Challenging Conversations Impact Culture
Challenging conversations at work can create feelings of discomfort, confusion, bitterness, or similar negative emotions associated with poor communication. The interactions impact both parties — wasted energy for the more authoritative party involved, and a lack of self-confidence for those in the less experienced position. The young or inexperienced auditors are usually trying to perform their basic job requirements such as understanding a technical concept, collecting documentation, or asking process questions others see as simplistic when gathering a baseline understanding of a process.
Ignoring the reality of having challenging conversations at work can have a long-term, negative impact on culture. Avoiding challenging conversations can leave the people involved feeling unappreciated. When the value is felt across the board, challenging conversations naturally dwindle and are replaced with understanding, learning, development, and growth for all parties involved. Without a culture that encourages open and respectful communication, challenging conversations arise, and interactions in the workplace are often filled with ego, pride, and selfish behavior, all of which embody a poor culture.
Like so many others, I have had challenging conversations in all aspects of my life. In my professional life, these come up most often when working with corporate executives and other ranking members of organizations to solve audit requests and resolve technical accounting inquiries. In my years of auditing, I have found five tips for difficult conversations that helped me navigate the challenges.
5 Tips for Challenging Conversations
1. Be considerate and mindful of the other person.
In the current hybrid workplace, most meetings are scheduled in advance, but it is still good etiquette to ask if the person still has time for the conversation. Something may have come up, and they will appreciate your consideration in asking. If the question is urgent, and you need to send a question through a chat platform, set expectations. Simply opening with, “I have a quick question, do you have a few minutes” allows the other person to give you an opening or set a time for a call.
2. Be authentic, honest, and transparent.
Many are afraid to show their true selves in the workplace. Authenticity can be difficult sometimes, especially when recommending changes to a process and in situations when you are not confident in your skills. Being honest and transparent sets the tone for the conversation. You can start a conversation by honestly saying, “I know this probably seems simple since you do it every day, but can you walk me through ___? This is the first time I’m seeing this process.”
3. Be patient and listen actively.
Too often people speak to fill the silence, but if you are speaking, you are not listening. Silence can provide a lot of benefit in a challenging conversation at work. By actively listening, you gain a better understanding and show respect to those involved in the conversation.
4. Be a courageous professional.
As auditors, we are often in a position to recommend changes to processes. Since change is inevitable, we should do our best to predict and promote these changes without shying away from having challenging conversations. Masking inevitable change or using avoidance can often create an even more challenging conversation down the road.
5. Be prepared.
Challenging conversations require preparation and confidence to be productive. Preparing for the technical aspect of a conversation helps you enter the conversation with more self-confidence. Preparing for the soft skills involved in the conversation is just as important. Think about how the person prefers to work. Should you start more conversationally or get down to business? Taking a few moments to prepare can mean the difference between success and failure.
Learning from Challenging Conversations
You cannot avoid having challenging conversations at work, but you can get better at navigating what makes these difficult. The tips outlined above for difficult conversations — to be considerate, authentic, patient, courageous, and prepared — will have a long-term, positive impact on your conversation skills. In the end, keep in mind that you have nothing to lose, and you’ll become more skilled with every conversation.