Difficult Conversations

Is there a conversation you've been putting off?

Is there a coworker or family member with whom you need to talk – but haven’t? With the holidays around the corner, maybe you’re even a little tense about navigating an office gathering or a family holiday party because you haven’t cleared the air with someone who will be in the room.

I just helped a client walk through the difficult conversation framework. She had an issue that needed to be addressed; however, she knew her direct style would not serve her well this time. She told me that she had talked the issue over with her therapist, because that always helps her understand what might trigger her in the conversation. Next, she coached through this with me. She told me what her goal was for the conversation. She had a very specific message she needed to get across to her colleague. She could hear herself being more directive and worked to be more inviting of a dialogue. Then, she thought she was just about ready for the conversation and wanted to practice it with me so that she could tease out any tone issues that she didn’t want in it. This also helped her see that she may need to repeat the same sentence a couple times to make her point. Finally, she was ready.

By helping this client and many others, I’ve found that one of the most common reasons I hear from leaders for not holding difficult conversations, is that they don’t know how to begin. Here are a few conversation openers I’ve picked up from others over the years and have used myself:

  • I’d like to discuss something with you that I think will help us work together better.
  • I think we may have different ideas about _____________.
  • When you have some time, I’d like to talk about it.
  • I’d like to hear your thoughts on ____________. Do you have a minute?
  • I need your help with what just happened (or – I need your help with __________). Can we talk?
  • I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about ___________. I really want to hear your thoughts on this.

All of these openers help to create two conditions — an environment of respect and mutual purpose. You can say almost anything as long as you maintain these two critical conditions.

Once you decide how you want to start the conversation, the next step may surprise you. You will want to practice, practice, practice.

The art of conversation is like any art – with continued practice you acquire skill and ease. You can create better working and family relationships, ease communication problems, and improve the quality of your environment by practicing this art.

Here are 3 more tips to keep in mind.

  1.  A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you are and what you say. How you are (centered, supportive, curious, problem-solving) will greatly influence what you say.
  2.  Know and return to your purpose at difficult moments. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself as it may be necessary to reiterate your purpose.
  3.  Practice the conversation before holding the real one, either mentally or with a friend. Try out different scenarios and visualize yourself handling each with ease.

Work with me

Often conversations are complicated by the fact that we did not put enough thought and practice into them. If you need some help holding a difficult conversation, click here as I would love to help you with this.

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