Well, That Was Awkward: Etiquette Tips For Tackling a Tough Conversation


We’ve all been there and we probably will again. Here’s how to do it better.

awkward conversations
While we don’t blame you for going into hiding of late, you’ve most likely heard of the awkward phone conversation between President Trump and our own Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday, with reports stating Trump found himself in a rage over the ‘dumb deal’ promised by the former administration to admit refugees from Manus Island and Nauru.

The President took to social media, shortly after the phone call – his favourite platform of communication –  to tweet, “do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”.

Chances are, you’ve caught yourself in similar awkward exchanges in your place of business too. It begs us to ask the question, what’s the best way to prepare for an awkward conversation that you’ve been dreading? Whether it’s a pay rise negotiation with your boss, an unresolved tiff with your colleague, or a meeting with an unsatisfied external stakeholder, we think it’s worth exploring some key tactics that will help get you prepared and ready to negotiate better than our politicians (which, at this stage, isn’t a hard bar to raise).

Avoid silence
Research suggests that four seconds is all it takes for a conversation to go from easily flowing to cricket-worthy silence, and with added anxiety comes nail-biting nerves, making it increasingly difficult to get a point across clearly. Once a meeting time has been set, take a quiet moment a day or two before, with a pen at the ready and jot down the points you really want to get across. Avoid accusations and the ‘you’ word as much as possible. Instead, plan on conveying how you feel and what you would realistically like to achieve from the meeting in a dot point format.

Ask productive questions
When trying to get your point across (to what may feel like a human brick wall), sometimes the best way to get your desired response is to ask questions. By giving them a question as a prompt, you will allow them time to actively think about the situation instead of switching off while you’re giving your one-way spiel. Productive, open questions like: What are the other options? What do we know? What are some of the things we can action in this meeting? are all great starts to making sure your point is heard.

Offer a warning
No matter how much you feel like someone needs to hear your criticism, it’s best to always offer a warning that bad news is about to follow. Instead of simple stating “your desk is constantly messy and it bothers me”, a warning prior stating “this may be hard to hear but…” often gives the recipient a moment to emotionally prepare, thus giving them time to hear what you are trying to say to a greater capacity.

Use your body
In these types of conversations, being direct is always the best way forward for clear communication, but sometimes with any stressful conversation comes a lot of emotion. Regardless of potential tension, the best way to de-escalate a conversation is to use effective body language. Start with an upright posture, direct eye contact, purposeful arm gestures, slow, articulate speech and a moderate to low tone of voice. By employing these strategies, your message will sing across the boardroom (in the right way).

Open and close
Let’s be honest: after your heated meeting finishes, you’re likely to see the other person again, making even more awkward silence fillers around the watercooler. By clearly opening and closing the meeting, you signify that the issues raised in the meeting will stay there, so that after it is concluded there is no uncertainty. A simple statement like “that’s all I wanted to say for today” will do the trick. Before closing, make sure to summarise the key takeaways from the meeting, and what further action will be taken afterwards, and if necessary, an email documenting dot points with an expression of your expectation will help clarify any grey areas.


Nicole Webb

Staff Writer Collective Hub

Nicole is a Sydney based writer, who’s previously written for Harper’s Bazaar and Elle Australia. She has mused about everything from the world of haute couture, the Sydney music scene and newly founded start-ups.


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