5 Steps to Having Difficult Conversations

Last week we talked about why we tend to avoid difficult conversations, but considering the positive effects of having uncomfortable but much needed discussions I wanted to provide you with a step-by-step guide to sucking it up and doing it anyways.

Here are a few easy steps to get started:

Plan a time and place.

Whether you decide to tell them beforehand is completely on you, but if possible just save your comments for the actual conversation. Pick a neutral space so that the person does not feel attacked and try not to do it when the person is under an additional amount of stress such as the end of their job’s fiscal quarter or when they have fallen behind on a huge project at work. If the relationship is worth saving, some patience will serve you well.

Try not to ambush the person.

If you do choose to tell them about your talk in advance, be honest and do not try to disguise the talk as something else. Read: Do not plan a romantic dinner and then bring up that you are not satisfied with your spouse’s help around the house. This is deceitful and will only make the person feel attacked.

Get to the point.

Once you’re there, get to the point. Don’t even think about the long drawn out, “It’s not you, it’s me” speech. In fact, Dr. Susan Krauss of Psychology Today recommends leading with the bad and ending with the good. As an illustration, let’s say your friend has been borrowing some of your things and not returning them.

I’m not talking about a cute top, I’m talking about your Tiffany necklace or your Movado watch.

You could say, “When you borrowed my Movado watch the other day you never gave it back. Even after I reminded you to leave it at my house, you left with it. You usually borrow my things and return them to me in mint condition.”

In this way, you stick to the facts and you emphasize that you don’t see this action as a representation of their character, but a deviation from it.

State your case simply and limit the amount of information you give.

Sometimes people need a moment to process what you’re saying, so resist the urge to keep talking just because they are still silent. If they are silent for too long, ask them what their thoughts are on the matter.

Also, focus on one issue at a time. This will maintain the psychological safety of the conversation and make that person more open to hearing your perspective.

If it goes wrong re-establish safety, come back to the conversation at a specified date & time, seek a compromise.

If you feel the conversation going wrong immediately tap into what they may be telling themselves. It may be something like:

“S/he thinks I am a bad person.” “S/he thinks I am lazy.” “S/he thinks I am rude.”

Re-establish safety by saying something like, “I don’t want you to think that I see you as a rude person. As a matter of fact, I know you are a very kind person. I just want to figure out what the disconnect is between us.”

If that isn’t enough try ending the conversation in a mutual manner, read: do not storm out of the room, and pick an exact date or time to have the conversation again so that it does not get swept under the rug.

When it’s all said and done, you may have to make some concessions to keep the relationship going whether that be in the form of an apology or realizing that the issue is a result of something you had done.

No matter what it takes, as a community we have got to start seeing difficult, candid conversations as the relationship building tools they are. The better we communicate during times of conflict, the stronger our relationships become. Not only that, it is when our communication skills are put to the test and strengthened. Take the leap and have the difficult conversation today.

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