Nobody enjoys having difficult conversations. Okay that’s not entirely true; I actually enjoy them most of the time ?. It’s not because I enjoy being confrontational, quite the opposite actually. I enjoy practicing the skill of communicating with intention, with clarity and with purpose. And I see the value in the result that comes from having those difficult conversations.
But I am aware that I am a bit of an anomaly in this space so I wanted to give you some tips on how I prepare for and how I coach my clients on how to prepare for hard conversations. There is no space for just winging conversations that mean something to us.
1 – Prepare Yourself
Block out some time to sit down and plan out the meat of the conversation. Get clear and really understand the result you are working towards; what are you trying to achieve by the end of this conversation? It’s so important, especially when dealing with someone who deflects, is to keep the conversation on that road towards that goal. Where we often struggle is when the other person throws new issues on the table that you weren’t expecting; then all of a sudden, the conversation unravels and you don’t know how to get it back on track to the issue at hand. Go into the conversation clear on your viewpoint, your opinion, the result you are hoping to gain. Visualize the conversation; what will you say or do if certain things happen? Visualize what might come up and how to get it back on track with respect and calmness. Also think about the time and the place to have the conversation. Pick a time and place where the other person is in a space where they can actually hear you and engage in a meaningful discussion. Timing is often everything when it comes to hard conversations. Also pick a time where your emotions are under control; when you’re fired up about something, it might not be the best time to enter into a conversation.
2 – Share the Desired Outcome
Share with the other person the result are hoping for. When the conversation starts, be really clear, open and honest about why you’re having the conversation and what you hope to get from it. “This is why I want to sit down and talk with you today; I want to get on the same page so that we can move forward”.
3 – Don’t Cross Issues
Stick to the issue at hand and leave all other concerns or issues for another day and another conversation. Stay in your lane; it turns into a giant mess when you start crossing issues in a conversation. So many people have defense mechanisms that cause them to deflect; they intentionally will deviate in their conversations, they will avoid taking responsibility and try to bring up other issues to either save face or make themselves feel stronger in the conversation. Those people are really difficult to have conversations with; be intentional about not getting to their level. If they keep trying to pull in other issues, leave the conversation. They need to know that you are firm on what this conversation was intended to be about and that you’re not going to lose your temper or fly off the handle (which is probably what they want). Just say calmly, “This isn’t working today. I respect your space right now, let’s talk about it another time”. This might upset them even further, but taking the bait and lashing out is not going to get you to the result you want from the conversation.
4 – Really Listen
Focus on the listener; are they still listening to you or did they shut down? Are they getting emotional? Are they tuning you out or barely speaking? If they aren’t fully present or engaging in the conversation, stop having it because they aren’t even really hearing you. Watch what’s happening and know when to shut it down if it’s just not going anywhere. You don’t need to be right, you don’t need to defend or engage in “tit for tat” mind games. Nobody wins when it gets to that energy level. Role model the behaviours you need in order to shift the conversation and if it’s not going anywhere, leave the conversation for another time.
5 – Find Purpose
Go into the conversation with the mindset that it’s going to turn out the way it’s meant to. If you know in your heart that you had the best of intentions, you communicated clearly with integrity, kindness and respect, then you have to feel good about that regardless of how the rest of the conversation went. You can only control you; how the other person reacts is on them, not you. Reflect on the conversation afterwards and find the greater purpose and gratitude within that. Be honest with yourself; what could you have done better? And if you didn’t act as the best of you, learn from it and clean it up.