No one enjoys difficult conversations. But skilled communicators and Authentic Leaders have them anyway. They know that avoiding difficult conversations helps no one. They know that avoidance makes whatever situation is driving the need for the conversation worse.
Having difficult conversations is an important skill to develop. Especially if you want to have healthy relationships with others. Here are some ideas for making difficult conversations a little less difficult.
- Choose the right time and place. It’s important to choose a time and place where both you and the other person feel comfortable and safe to have a conversation. Make sure it’s a private space where you won’t be interrupted. But…if you’re in a position of authority the space should be neutral. Just because your office might be comfortable for you it may be anything but for the other person. That desk you sit behind is often an impenetrable wall between you and the person you’re trying to have the conversation with. If the space isn’t safe and comfortable for both parties involved in the conversation then it’s not a safe and comfortable space at all.
- Be clear about the issue. Before you start the conversation, take some time to think about what you want to say. Be crystal clear about the issue at hand. Try to focus on the behavior or action that’s causing the problem. Avoid making personal attacks. Be specific. Don’t use “waffle words.” Don’t use a bigger word than you need to make your point. Your goal in the conversation is not to show off your extensive vocabulary, it’s to communicate clearly.
- Listen actively. When you’re having a difficult conversation, it’s important to listen actively to the other person’s perspective. Try to understand where they’re coming from and show empathy for their feelings. If your reply to anything the other person says begins with, “yes but,” then it’s likely you’re not fully listening. It’s likely you were preparing your pithy response instead. Check yourself here; effective listening is every bit as important as anything you may say.
- Stay calm and respectful. It’s natural to feel emotional during a difficult conversation, but it’s important to stay calm and respectful. Avoid attacking the other person or becoming defensive. Never allow your passion to become an excuse for losing control of your emotions.
- Offer solutions. Instead of just pointing out the problem, offer solutions or suggestions for how to move forward. This can help to create a sense of collaboration and can lead to a more positive outcome. The great Dale Carnegie says to “make the fault seem easy to correct.” Never never never make a mountain out of a molehill.
- Follow up. After the conversation, it’s important to follow up and check in with the other person to make sure they’re okay and to see if any further action is needed. Very few difficult conversations are a “one and done” type of communication. Stay connected and make sure that all agreements made, no matter who made them, are being followed through on.
Having difficult conversations takes practice, but it’s a valuable skill to have. With time and experience, you can become more confident in your ability to communicate effectively. You’ll navigate challenging conversations with much less stress.
Authentic Leaders don’t dodge difficult conversations. They use them to help their people and their organizations grow and prosper. Once you can do that there isn’t much that can get in the way your success.
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