Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

How to have difficult conversations at work?

Whether you’re an intern or a full time employee, you are bound to be in situations where difficult conversations are the only solutions.  Confronting coworkers is not easy. Especially when you’re an intern who is being newly exposed to a company’s culture. However, avoiding uncomfortable conversations with a short term mindset can affect productivity, motivation and your overall internship experience in the long run.

Therefore, here are 4 steps that will help you navigate conflict in your internship:

  1. Listen: More often than not, once we’ve made up our mind about something we become resistant to other people’s opinions. To handle conflict effectively in a mature manner, it is essential that you listen carefully. Give your colleague an opportunity to express their point of view. Don’t rush to acknowledge everything they say. Let them finish, observe their body language and ask them what they thought about the specific situation.
  2. Recognize: Once you have given the person a chance to fully express themselves, make a mental list of all the issues they have raised. Try to acknowledge each of them from your perspective while simultaneously putting yourself in your opponent’s shoes.
  3. Explain your intentions: For example, a fellow intern might say that they disagree with you frequently because you are not a team player. Instead of becoming defensive, ask for an example. Dissect the situation they present to you and let them know what you were thinking at that particular time. While doing this, make sure to acknowledge the problem they have highlighted. In this case, you could say “I understand how I could come off as someone indifferent to your opinions but that isn’t true. I highly value your perspective but the way I express myself might have given you a wrong impression”.
  4. Troubleshoot: Now that you’ve listened, acknowledged and advocated, it is time to come up with plausible solutions. Brainstorm with your colleague and make it clear that their suggestions are wanted. This will increase their participation and willingness to address the problem. Once you’ve collaboratively made an action plan, try to consciously implement it.