I get asked in my work for help in how to have difficult conversations. So many times, we struggle to have difficult conversations when we need to. We shove them to the side and tell ourselves that perhaps the situation will resolve itself. We tell ourselves that we just don’t have the energy right now to deal with this challenging conversation. Sadly, shoving them aside usually leads to the situation festering and getting more complicated or more damaging. I thought today I would share with you what I frequently share with my clients about having those difficult conversations. I want to do that so that you can embrace the opportunity to be proactive and handle them now, while they’re less complicated and volatile. Then you can develop the skills and experience to wade into the waters without fearing that you’ll drown in the difficulty of the conversation.
Attitude Is Everything:
When it comes to engaging in conversation with someone, you must start with the right attitude. Expect the best, not the worst. It’s even more important if the conversation is going to lead to some conflict. Expecting the worst in the conversation generally leads to a self-fulfilling conclusion where things go badly. Be positive! Be constructive! Be proactive. Start by reminding yourself that you are trying to make things better and get started.
Find Common Ground:
If you sense that you’re bound to disagree about the difficult conversation, start talking about what you agree on, and what you may have in common and the values that you share. Too often, we focus on differences at the exact moment when it would be better to focus on what we share and what we have in common. Talking about what we agree on builds trust. Build trust first.
Get in the habit of asking the right questions to help you arrive at a deep understanding of where your colleague is coming from. One of my very favorite items is simply this, “Can you help me understand?” In my experience, this is a compelling question that leads to numerous excellent outcomes. It sends the message that you care, that you’re listening and that you prioritize understanding the other person. It also says that you want to become a part of a solution and not just a part of the problem.
Listen As Well As You Can:
Listening well is beginning to become a lost art. In today’s culture, we’re all overwhelmed and multi-tasking much of the time. Driving and talking on the telephone, typing email responses while we’re in a meeting, looking ahead to decide how to respond while someone else is talking, we’ve all done some or all of these, right? Set aside your impulse to imagine your rebuttal while another person is speaking. Listen well. Listen actively. Pay attention to the cadence, the tone of voice, the inflections, the language that is chosen, the things that are said and not said. All of these are important to the meaning that you can glean from another person’s communication to you. Don’t prepare your retort while the other person is speaking. Instead, listen deeply, and pause after they’ve finished considering the context. Then, and only then, can you afford to begin to build your response.
Be Helpful In Sharing Your View:
When the time is right, share your observations and help the other person to appreciate and understand your point of view and the reasons why you are leaning toward the conclusions you are considering. Speak hypothetically, and in a hopeful future tense as often as appropriate, that will help to create a sense of psychological safety as you describe your viewpoint.
Start Positively And Stay Positive:
Always work to move the conversation forward positively. Think ahead. Be proactive and anticipate what might happen, and prepare a plan to address any challenges or opportunities as positively as is humanly possible. Take the lead and go first. Establish a positive conversation tone instead of a negative tone. Be gentle and kind, and go out of your way to help to be constructive.
Continue The Conversation:
Even after you’ve reached a resolution, and you’re moving forward toward a solution that everyone can embrace, you need to continue to invest in the other person. By continuing to engage with and pay attention to your colleague, you support the new detente. Any relationship worth having is worth investing in proactively. Keep in touch with a person, especially after an awkward conversation, and it will continue the goodwill you established in the conversation. Disengaging sends a message that you weren’t sincere.
Every difficult conversation is an opportunity. Make the most of that opportunity to take a positive, constructive approach to create value for everyone, and you’re likely to have success. Don’t focus on the problem aspect or the challenge aspect of the conversation. Think of the conversation as a golden opportunity to move your relationship in a positive direction that will help EVERYONE to get what they want.
Michael is an executive development coach that helps C-Suite Executives, Business Owners, and their Emerging Leaders to develop their leadership abilities. Michael works with fast-growth companies all over the United States to gain proactivity and to invest in their people so that they can build high-performance teams who deliver results predictably. If you’d like more information, or if you’d like a free copy of Michael’s Difficult Conversation Strategies Tool, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.