How to deliver difficult messages constructively

Job interview – Via Shutterstock

The best way to deliver a difficult message or to discuss an issue is to disassociate the problem from a personal attack on the individual and rather view the issue separately in order to collectively find a solution. In doing so, you avoid dehumanising or isolating the person receiving the message.

The way in which business leaders deliver a message and what they say can either build or dismantle trust and respect. The way we communicate with one another in the work environment can have a significant impact on the outcome of a situation. On one hand, if proper care and consideration is not taken, the way we communicate can add significant stress. On the other hand, when honest, empathetic, well-informed communication is achieved, that interaction can be generative and create something new out of what was once a difficult situation. In doing so, more options and possibilities become available than one previously thought possible.

Developing this critical skill is possible by incorporating some new daily habits into your life:

Managing stress

When you are able to manage your internal chatter and stress levels it allows you the space for clarity and to step away from your habitual responses and feelings. Meditation begins in the brain and can induce a trance-like state. When in a state of meditation our parasympathetic nervous system ‘turns-off’ the sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for the actions of walking, talking and feeling stress. This allows for a deep state of rest and relaxation. Our nervous system controls our entire body and the emotions produced by our brains. Our physical bodies are one of the most fascinating ad complex machines. When we suffer from stress, the body responds. The response is often tension in the muscles, increased heart rate, shallow and fast breathing and increased production of cortisol in our bodies which has long term health implications.

When we can master the control of our thoughts and emotions, we can step away from our habitual responses and communicate at a level of empathy and with a problem solving mind set.

Stepping into someone else’s shoes

An easy exercise to try in order to be able to step into someone else’s shoes is perceptual positioning. It allows us to become the observer of our own reactions and changes what happens in our body as we speak to this person (for example does your breathing change when you speak to them? Does your posture change when you interact with this person you dislike, as opposed to someone you like?). It allows us to metaphorically step into someone else’s shoes and imagine what it is like for them to receive the message we deliver. This gives you the space to assess exactly what you can do to ease the tension next time you interact with this person.

You will be surprised how just by altering your tone or posture and relaxing into yourself when delivering a difficult message or discussing an issue, can lead to a far less stressful outcome for all involved, producing a constructive, generative outcome.

Really listen

Learning to listen is also part of effective message delivery and it is important to exercise non-judgemental listening. Free your hearing space to listen instead of queuing up another question or comment before the other person has finished talking. It is a skill we could all do with cultivating in order to really hear what people are saying. Once you have mastered this skill you will be able to uncover so much valuable information.

It is a good idea to give all the information you are being presented with time to settle in order to fully understand a situation. Once you have heard different perspectives, you have the opportunity to explore new options and help yourself and the other become unstuck from the habitual narrative.

Interactions need to be in service of the greater good of the collective and less so purely in benefit of the self, leading to a greater sense of happiness. Learning to deliver difficult messages constructively is a big part of creating well-functioning teams that are engaged, motivated and productive.

About the Author

Kavitha Chahel is the founder and MD of Compassionism Ltd, a leadership coaching and training company focusing on helping business leaders create profitable businesses through highly engaged teams and by getting comfortable with their fear and vulnerability to connect with their compassion.

She is an experienced business coach and company director. For nearly 20 years she has worked in business development, marketing, business leadership and strategy across the corporate, public and charitable sectors. She is also a non-executive director of Asha Projects, a charity that provides safe housing to women and children fleeing domestic violence. She has worked with clients across EMEA, the Americas and APAC. Recently Kavitha published her new book ‘Compassionism’ which you can find here:

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