Difficult conversations. Just the thought of them can make us uneasy. We often avoid them like the plague, hoping problems will somehow resolve themselves. But here's the thing: avoiding conflict is not like aging wine; it doesn't improve over time.
When you're gearing up for a tough talk, ask yourself: What's my intent? What's my hope? These questions might seem straightforward, but I urge you to delve deeper. If your intent is to prove the other person wrong and force change, you're already off track.
Think Big Picture. You might be itching to point out someone's mistakes or how they're affecting your department. But pause and consider: What kind of long-term relationship do you want with this person? Creating an adversary won't help if you need their cooperation. I always advise my clients to establish a connection first. Show that you care and are willing to hear their side of the story. But only if you’re being authentic. Pretending to care and listen will backfire.
Listen Before You Speak. Often, we're so focused on what we want to say that we forget to listen. Remember, people will be much more willing to listen to you after they have felt heard. How can you approach this conversation without judgment? By labeling it as 'difficult,' you're already framing the person or situation negatively. Which in turn affects your ability to listen.
Embrace Curiosity. What if you approached the conversation with pure curiosity, without any preconceived notions? Start with “I’m wondering why ….” How might that change the outcome?
I get it. You're thinking, "You don't know my situation or how challenging this person is." True, I don't know your specific circumstances. But in my experience, seeking to understand before being understood transforms conversations. What if your goal was to genuinely listen and learn about the other person's perspective and challenges, without an agenda of getting what you want?
Consider the impact on your relationship by simply listening and not judging. This creates a different kind of relationship. You might not see immediate change – human behavior doesn't work that way. When you insist on change, you might see short-term changes but it ultimately leads to resentment, and maybe even some passive-aggressive behavior. When dealing with humans or emotions, control is an illusion. Approaching a conversation with curiosity and a growth mindset requires trusting the process.
Difficult conversations aren't just obstacles; they're opportunities for growth and understanding. Embrace the Challenge. Being vulnerable and sharing your perspective can strengthen connections, creating stronger, more authentic relationships.
So next time you face a “difficult conversation”, take a few deep breaths, center yourself in curiosity and empathy. Be 100% present (take care of anything that might distract or interrupt this important conversation), listen with your ears, look for visual clues, nod to show you’re listening, and listen to your gut. You might be surprised at the depth of understanding and strength of the connections you create.
Reflect on a past difficult conversation. How did it go? If it went well, what contributed to its success? If not, what could you do differently next time? If you’re about to have a “difficult” conversation, what is your true intent?