• Ann-Marie Brennand

Confidence in difficult conversations

Updated: Aug 5

Whether it is your performance review, a tricky conversation with a co-worker, asking for funding for learning & development or proposing a new idea to an overbearing colleague; having these types of conversations can fill us with so much dread, that offering to take on another person’s expenses instead can feel far more appealing.

As PA/EAs we spend much of our time supporting our Execs and ensuring they have everything they need to enable them to shine in their roles but we need to look after ourselves too and have those tricky conversations to ensure we have everything that we need to perform our roles to the best of our ability.


Why so nervous?

To have a positive outcome it is important to start the conversation feeling confident and well prepared. Confidence is something that many PA/EAs within our profession struggle with. We often feel nervous, doubt ourselves and as a result do not have the conversations that are important to our own progression. This nervousness will come from somewhere; perhaps you’ve had a previous bad experience or it’s the first time you are raising this topic, or you are worried about fiery character that you need to have your conversation with - all of these can impact how you about feel opening up this conversation.


The past does not = the future

If you have previously had a bad experience this could leave you feeling that it will happen again, but every situation is different. There are lots of variables; it could be a new topic, a new person you are talking to, and if it is the same person you are speaking to again, you now have the super power of prior experience. Reflect on your previous encounter, think about why it did not go the way you wanted and what you could have done differently. It is easy to blame the other person but instead, learn to manage them better. It could be as simple as knowing that they are not a morning person, or they get hangery just before lunch or they get really stressed just before a particular meeting, if so then you know to avoid these times. Use your previous experience and knowledge to your advantage to gain the outcome you desire.


Reaction fear

If you are nervous about the reaction of the person about what you plan to discuss with them, run through what all the possible negative reactions could be. Be careful not to get stressed and catastrophise about the worst happening, but rationally thinking about possible negative responses will help you prepare.

If the outcome is “No”, then in advance think about what is your next game plan? Perhaps you will try a different approach, do more research before making another request or if it is a real deal breaker are you prepared to start looking for alternative employment?

Always endeavour to end every conversation with grace, so even if you do not get the answer you want, think about a positive way to finish. If it ends acrimoniously then this could become a vicious cycle and become the “bad experience” which leaves you worrying next time.


Dress for success

You know that feeling when you have just come out of the hairdresser with your new style that you love and you feel so great that you are almost bouncing down the street? Well, recreate that feeling ahead of your meeting. Do your hair, wear your favourite clothes, your lucky jewellery or your favourite perfume. You are not doing any of this for the person that you are meeting, you are doing this for yourself.

If you start the meeting feeling good about yourself, you will feel more confident. Have you ever felt more reluctant to turn your camera on for those Zoom calls when you know that it is the day before “hair-wash-day"? I know I have. You do not want to have that feeling in your meeting.

So, do whatever you need to do to make you feel fabulous before your meeting. This is especially important if it is a video call and you know that you will be able to see yourself in the screen. If, you catch a glimpse of yourself, you want to have your internal friend tell you that you look great, not that pesky, inner critic telling you that you should have spent more time brushing your hair.


Prepare - Know it, Write it. Say it.

Conversations can be scary, but the hardest ones are often the most rewarding. They carry the biggest risks but also the greatest gains. So, prepare for your meeting by writing down:


· What is the outcome that you want?

· What is the benefit of this to you?

· What is in it for the person that you are asking? What will others gain from this?

· How will you position your conversation - is there a story to tell?

· What possible challenges could come up? Have answers ready for them.

· Read your notes out loud to yourself - this will help you familiarises yourself with the flow.


It is also a good idea to talk it over with someone you trust. Saying it out loud with someone will make you feel more confident about having the conversation for real in the future.


Perhaps you may also set the agenda of the meeting, by telling them in advance, “I’ve set this meeting so that we can talk about XYZ”. This way you are managing their expectation and they will not feel threatened or caught off guard.


Power Pose.

If you are not familiar with Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk ‘Your body language may shape who you are’, which has had over 18million YouTube views, it is well worth a watch before heading into a stressful conversation. Cuddy explains how the shape of our bodies can influence our mind and how we feel. By standing in a “Power Pose”, which means making our bodies big and taking up space, for only two minutes can increase testosterone, leading to greater presence, confidence, passion and enthusiasm whilst also lowering cortisol - the stress hormone. Sounds great right?


The outcome

These few simple tips will not guarantee a positive outcome, but hopefully they will leave you feeling more confident and prepared to have that chat that you have been putting off. And, as a bonus, if you do get the result you were hoping for, this will in turn boost your confidence to feel that a conversation isn’t so scary after all and you will be empowered to take the next tricky conversation with less hesitation because in the words of Amy Cuddy, “Don’t fake it until you make it. Fake it until you become it”.

Positive PA

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