6 Steps to Start a Difficult Conversation

Difficult conversations are a part of life. You and an ex need to make a mutual decision. Perhaps you have to fire an employee or bring up an issue with a neighbor. While no one looks forward to such conversations, here are some ways to change the thought process from dread to preparation:

Workplace Conversations

1   What is your intention?

Before having the conversation, spend some time thinking about your intention. What do you hope to accomplish? What would be the best outcome?

Spend some time in self-reflection. Are you trying to score points or get back at the other person? If so, what would be more productive?

2   What do you need?

What kind of conversation will help take you to your desired outcome? How can you say what you need in a way the other can best hear it?

One way to get more of what you want is to turn complaints into requests. If you are not used to thinking in this way, write down your major complaints and a corresponding behavioral request. Transform “You never buy anything,” to “would you be willing to help me with the grocery shopping?”

3   What does the other person need?

What might be behind their anger and frustration? While this may be the last thing you want to do, know that naming their underlying motivation can be the best single thing you can do to turn a conversation around. If you are not sure, ask. “I am guessing that you want X.” “Is that right?” If you are correct, the conversation will immediately change. If wrong, they will correct you and you will be headed toward something more productive.

4   Engage in some self reflection.

Ask yourself if how you handled this issue in the past is getting you what you want. Think about any changes might want to make to your previous approach. Commit to these changes, and if this is new for you, write them down.

5   How will you bring up the issue?

Avoid the tendency to go on and on. Most people would rather hear what you need to say, than listen to you talk around the issue. Get to the point.

After friendly preliminaries, when you see your neighbor over the fence, ask, ”Do you have a few minutes? I would like to talk with you about _____.”

Or a supervisor can say, “I set up this meeting with you today because we don’t have the budget to pay for your position and are going to have to lay you off.”

Once the issue is on the table, there can be room for questions and conversation.

6   Resolve not to respond to bad behavior.

If your conversation partner’s response is likely to be to fight, flight or freeze, decide to remain calm and curious. Most effective is to address their reaction. If it is fight, you might respond with “you are pretty angry about this, can you tell me what you want in this situation?” Or “I’m seeing sarcasm here, which is making it harder to understand what you want.”

If the person wants to leave, you might need to ask,” Would you like to take a break and come back to this conversation in a couple of hours?” or “You’re being very quiet. How should I understand that?”

As long as we humans continue to irritate one another, difficult conversations will be a part of work and home life. Being prepared by knowing the needs of yourself and others, and reflecting on how to have the best conversation can make these much easier.

Linda Gryczan is a Helena Certified Mediator who encourages you to submit your conflict questions to be answered in this blog to lindag@mediationworks.tv.


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