When people understand each other amazing and inspiring things can happen. Unfortunately the reverse of that statement is also true. When we don’t understand each other negative and sometimes destructive things happen. Relationships and conflicts, whether at home or professionally can be a minefield. And often it is one of our own making.
(Now if you are reading this in the hope you can resolve a conflict that point of view might surprise you, just hear me out.)
The bottom line is that most conflicts are caused by lack of communication.
We have all been there. There is an issue in a relationship. It could be something small, but it bugs you. But instead of communicating this, you avoid it. Over time it builds up. It becomes and unspoken issue. One person is aware of it. The other possibly not. Eventually it explodes. And then you can either talk it out or shy away from the hard conversation by avoiding it. And that only makes things worse. The situation can end up unsolvable
You are not alone if you don’t like to take difficult conversations. The majority of people don’t like it. And biologically our survival instincts go crazy when we are in a potential difficult communication situation, making it even harder for us to communicate effectively.
It is understandable that we sometimes avoid conflict because we do not want to hurt others or cause relationship problems. In the short term, we may feel relieved because we do not have to face the other person.
NOT talking NEVER solves the problem.
The truly amazing thing is that we all have more power than we think in these kind of situations. Think back through your life. How many situations could have been different if you had communicated? How many conflicts could have been avoided if you had taken the leap to have a difficult honest conversation and worked towards a solution? Wouldn’t it have been great to feel empowered by one of those situations instead of feeling frustrated or like a victim.
The great news is you can feel empowered if you dare to take the difficult conversations.
When you take a difficult conversation it empowers you to:
- Stop the build up resentment and frustration
- Acknowledge and give space for your feelings
- Create a space of honesty and direct communication
- Understand and be understood
- Look for and reach solutions easier
And I KNOW it’s not easy.
Personally I hate taking difficult conversations. I find it enormously challenging at work and much easier in a relationship. For others it is the complete reverse. And for some of you it’s both environments that you find hard.
The good news is that there is a simple strategy to taking the difficult conversation whether at work or at home- if you dare!
This is a step by step guide to having a difficult conversation aiming to find a solution and clear communication. And trust me in 99% of situations is works. I have tried this in both professional and personal situations. From the boss that belittled me, to the boyfriend that simply couldn’t understand why I got sick of his computer gaming every night, to the friend who I needed to create healthy boundaries with, this process has seen me through and made my life so much easier.
STEP 1: Working on Yourself: Prepare for the Conversation
Before going into the conversation, prepare. You need to watch out. You might actually have a hidden agenda. Remember the majority of the work in any conflict conversation is work you do on yourself.
Ask yourself some questions to be clear:
- What is your purpose for having the conversation?
- What do you hope to accomplish?
- What would be an ideal outcome?
- What assumptions are you making about this person’s intentions?.
- What “buttons” of yours are being pushed?
- Are you more emotional than the situation warrants?
- What personal history or back story is being triggered that is under the surface of your reaction?
- What are your needs and fears?
- How have you contributed to the problem?
- What would a solution look like for you?
- Who is the opponent?
- What might they be thinking about this situation?
- Is he aware of the problem?
- How do you think they perceive it?
- What are his needs and fears?
- What solution do you think he would suggest?
- How has the other person contributed to the problem?
And importantly ask:
- Are there any common concerns? Could there be?
Here you are looking deeply into your responsibility and trying to place yourself in the perspective of your opponent.
Sometimes if I find this method doesn’t quite help me understand my reaction in a situation I use John Gray’s Feeling Letter technique to help me get clear about my emotional state, and release negative emotions before taking the difficult conversation.
Step 2: Starting the conversation
Have the conversation sooner rather than later. Don’t spring it on the other person. Remember you have prepared, they haven’t had the same opportunity. They may not even know the situation is going on. Opening the conversation in a non confrontational manner is really important.
There was something that bothered me at the meeting yesterday , and I’d like to talk with you about it.
As opposed to
Look, I don’t like what you said at yesterday’s meeting and we have to get that sorted, now”
An even better way is to give them an opportunity to prepare.
There’s something I’d like to talk with you about from yesterday’s meeting. When would be a good time to do this?
Step 3: The conversation
In the conversation use
- Problem solving
Explain the challenge and then pretend you don’t know anything (you really don’t), and try to learn as much as possible about your opponent/partner and his point of view. Let them talk until they are finished. Don’t interrupt except to acknowledge. Try to learn as much as you can in this phase of the conversation. This part of the conversation is about you understanding the unspoken dialogue and perspective of the other person.
Show that you’ve heard and understood. Acknowledge whatever you can, including your own defensiveness if it comes up. Acknowledgment can be difficult if we muddle it with agreement. Keep them separate. My saying, “this sounds really important to you,” doesn’t mean I’m going to go along with your decision.
When you sense your opponent/partner has expressed all their energy on the topic, it’s your turn. What can you see from your perspective that he’s missed? Help clarify your position without minimizing his. Be honest without being confrontational. Allow the other person to understand your hidden perspective.
Now you’re ready to begin building solutions. Brainstorming and continued inquiry are useful here. Ask your opponent/partner what they think might work.Asking for the other’s point of view usually creates safety Whatever they says, find something you like and build on it. If the conversation becomes a conflict, go back to inquiry.
Step 4: Look for the positive
Even with using the formula it can be harrowing to take the conversation. I find a good way to make my peace and feel good about the conversation is afterwards to collectively or alone identify what the positive outcomes were from the conversation.
These steps have helped me and I hope they will help you. Let me know how you get on in the comments below
Have a great week <3