In my experience no-one enjoys conflict. Yet sometimes life throws it at you and although your instinct may be to avoid a confrontation, eventually we have to deal with it. This year two of my personal goals are improving my communication in relationships and setting healthy boundaries for myself. And as always the universe has responded by presenting me with opportunities to do just that by manifesting some confrontations and subsequent hard conversations. Now the old me would have probably complained about these events and then not done so much about it. But in the spirit of conscious living and being true to myself this year avoidance is not an option. This year I have to take the hard conversations. And its scary.
These hard conversations come in all shapes and sizes and in every area of our lives. Maybe you can relate? Maybe you have a colleague that you simply cannot get along with or a family member you need to set boundaries for, but don’t dare to fix the boundaries you need because it might start a confrontation? The challenge is that when you avoid taking the hard conversation to fix these challenges it often builds up and results in a confrontation, leaving you with a mess. So the fix is the hard conversation. And the ideal of course is to have the hard conversation without it being, well hard. But how the heck do you do it? How do you take the hard conversation, fix the issue without a confrontation? Well it’s not easy. However it is doable with a little for thought and preparation it IS possible to make the hard conversation and easier experience for everyone involved.
This week I have a hard conversation I have to take. It’s an awkward situation as it is partly work related and partly personal. A potential time bomb of emotional responses. Every instinct I have is telling me to avoid it however avoidance is not an option. So in order to smooth over the ripples to make this conversation easier for both parties involved there is some careful preparation I need to make. Here is the process I have found works 9 times out of 10 on how to take a hard conversation and make it easy.
Going into a hard conversation without preparation is a recipe for a disaster. So before the conversation ask yourself the following questions:
What is your purpose for having the conversation?
Watch for hidden purposes. You may feel you have the moral high ground or purpose but is this a reality. Question the situation and your motive for the conversation.Work on yourself so that you enter the conversation with a supportive purpose.
What do you hope to accomplish?
This is an easier one what is it that you want out of the conversation? Do you need to have your feelings taken into consideration. Do you need to know more about the other person’s point of view?
What would be an ideal outcome?
Look at the solutions you need. Equally play a role reversal and think about what solutions the other party might need. In order to make a hard conversation easier a clear idea of the outcome that works for both parties is a must.
Where are your needs and what are you willing to compromise?
Cooperation is the key to making a hard conversation easier. And cooperation always involves an element of compromise. If you don’t look at where you are willing to compromise and work with the other person’s perspective the conversation will not go well. Similarly if you compromise all of your personal needs the conversation will not have been resolved in a positive way for you. Decide on where you can make compromises, where you have to place your boundaries and how to fulfill your needs beforehand.
How does this situation affect you emotionally?
Take a look at your “backstory,” What personal history is being triggered? Which emotional buttons are being pressed? Every interaction in life triggers an emotional response. You may find that when you look at this that a lot of your reaction to the situation is to do with you, not the other person. If some of this situation is ‘your stuff’ this something you need resolve alone. By identifying your emotional response to the situation you will get clarity about what is your responsibility to resolve and what is the other person’s responsibility to resolve. This may mean you have to reassess your ideal outcome
What are your fears and assumptions affecting the situation?
What are you afraid of? What fears do you have about the situation and the conversation? Are these rational personal and all they real? Similarly what assumptions are you making about this person that is affecting how you view the situation? Are these rational personal and all they real? Be cautious about assuming the other person’s intentions and perspective. Remember impact does not necessarily equal intent. A saying we have in our home is that “assumptions are the mother of all fuck ups”. Don’t allow irrational fears and assumptions to guide your actions.
Who is your opponent?
What might they be thinking about this situation? Are they aware of the problems and challenges you are experiencing? If so, how do you think they perceive it? What are their needs and fears? What solution do you think they might suggest? Begin to reframe the opponent as partner. A partner in solutions and mutual understanding.
How have you contributed to the problem?
In every situation whether we like it or not we have contributed to the good and the bad. Take a step back and accept responsibility for your contributions. Also have a look at what contributions and responsibilities the other person has made, in your opinion.
Have a Plan
How will you keep centered?
The majority of the work in any hard conversation is work you do on yourself. No matter how well the conversation begins, you’ll need to stay in charge of yourself, your purpose and especially your emotional energy. You will need to remain centered. So plan how to do that. Breathe, center. During the conversation continue to notice when you become off center–and choose to return again. This is where your power lies. By choosing the calm, centered state, you’ll help your conversation partner to be more centered, too. I often find that I use Mr Spock as my ideal in a hard conversation. He maintains a rational logical approach to any problem removing himself from his emotions. So find a way to connect with your inner spock.
How will you make the other person feel comfortable and included?
In a hard conversation the conversation will probably feel defensive. When you are initiating the hard conversation it is your responsibility to make sure the other person does not feel attacked. Often you will have planned for the conversation, the other person will not have had this luxury, It is important therefore to hear their perspective and to make sure their viewpoint is acknowledged. That you ask for their contributions to solutions and the ideal outcome.
How do you want the conversation to go?
Plan out your conversation. One format I would recommend is: Inquiry, Acknowledgement, Personal perspective, Problem Solving
Inquiry: Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Pretend you don’t know anything (it’s true you really don’t know how the other person feels), and try to learn as much as possible about your conversation partner and their point of view.
Acknowledgement: Acknowledgment means showing that you’ve heard and understood. Try to understand the other person so well you can make their argument for them. Then do it. Explain back their perspective. They will not change unless they sees that you see where they stands.
Personal perspective: Explain your perspective. Without accusing or becoming emotional. Clarify your position without minimizing theirs. Explain how you are challenge in/by the situation. Accept your responsibilities and state what you hope to accomplish in this conversation.
Problem Solving: Begin building solutions. Brainstorming and continued inquiry are useful here. Ask your conversation partner what he thinks might work. Find something you like in their suggestions go from there. If the conversation becomes challenging go back to inquiry, it will help the other person feel heard and engage in the solutions.
Moving forward: Clarify how you will move forward. Confirm agreements made for solutions. Thank the other person for being part of the resolution.
How will you begin?
Knowing how to begin a hard conversation helps your confidence. Here are some suggestions
- I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively.
- I’d like to talk about ____________ with you, but first I’d like to get your point of view.
- I need your help with what just happened/something. Do you have a few minutes to talk?
- I think we have different perceptions about _____________________. I’d like to hear your thinking on this.
- I’d like to talk about ___________________. I think we may have different ideas about how to _____________________.
- I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about ___________. I really want to hear your feelings about this and share my perspective as well.
- I/we have a challenging situation with _____________________ I would like to talk to you about it so we can find some solutions together.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The art of hard conversations is like anything else in life –with continued practice you get better at it and it becomes easier. If the conversation is really challenging you then run through it with a neutral party. Practise the conversation. Also you can mentally practice the conversation. See various possibilities and visualize yourself handling them with ease. Envision the outcome you are hoping for.
Here are some additional tips to remember when taking a hard conversation:
- A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you are and what you say. How you are (centered, supportive, curious, problem-solving) will greatly influence what you say.
- Acknowledge emotional energy–yours and your partner’s–and direct it toward a useful purpose.
- Know and return to your purpose for the conversation when it gets difficult
- Don’t take verbal attacks personally. (This one is challenging) Help your opponent/partner come back to center. It can be helpful to work out how before
- Don’t assume they can see things from your point of view.
Hard conversations are never going to be 100% easy. However by preparing, planning and practising you will create the best results. These steps can be used in any hard conversation personally or professionally. By being brave, taking action and finding resolution to a confrontation you are consciously choosing a positive solution which will make you feel a hundred times better in the long run. The more you practise taking the hard conversations the easier it will become. And by setting the boundaries, analysing your part in the conversation, working on ‘your stuff’ and finding solutions with the other person you will also be taking care of yourself.
Have a great week <3