Difficult conversations are the ones we have when there is something at stake.
It could be asking for a raise, firing an employee or something as simple as asking a co-worker not to talk over you. Difficult conversations are difficult because
you risk losing something, whether mentally, emotionally, or financially. And the most challenging part? There’s no avoiding them.
The more senior you get, the greater the demands of your role and the greater the chance of having more difficult conversations. Although there’s no way to hide from these conversations, there are ways to help you navigate your way through them.
In this blog post, I will be sharing the top 3 most common mistakes I see people make as they encounter difficult conversations and how to improve them.
Difficult conversations activate the fight or flight response. This shift impairs our creativity because we are not thinking in cooperative terms – we are thinking in safety or scarcity terms. This is a very natural response. However, it doesn’t have to be this all-or-nothing mentality. There are other outcomes to be factored in, and the trick is to pause and ask yourself…
In a difficult conversation, it’s easy to assume that you’re winning or you’re losing. While it’s true that the outcome has a lot to do with you and how you conduct yourself, the truth is that, to some extent, it has nothing to do with you. The other person could be…
Difficult conversations are complicated, and personalizing them only makes them more difficult. The Universe does not revolve around you. Perfectionists especially, tend to make this mistake because they take responsibility for the positive outcome of a conversation and can end up blaming themselves excessively if things go wrong.. So, let me repeat, it takes two to tango.
You can only take ownership of how you show up. The response is not in your control. Sometimes despite your best efforts, you will not win. The opposite is also true. Sometimes, without trying hard, the conversation’s outcome is amazing. Learn to create boundaries surrounding what is under your control: your emotions, voice, and needs. Not their response.
It’s easy to get caught up on the here and now when having a difficult conversation. We tend to start obsessing over the choice of words of the other person or the style in which they have delivered the message. It’s easy to do this because we want the difficult conversation to end quickly. However, always pay attention to what is not being said.
Walk a mile in their shoes and think of how they may be interpreting your ask or your feedback.
Marcia Reynolds, the author of The Discomfort Zone, suggests that you listen to the other person not just with your head but also with your heart and gut. Be truly present to the experience of the other without being overtaken by it. There is such a thing as over empathy or over-identification in a difficult conversation. It’s all about balancing your needs with theirs to find a deeper respect for where they come from and the big picture.
One of my clients was worried about having a difficult conversation with his boss because he felt if he went to her with the problem, she would see him as less capable, and by giving her the bad news, he would be letting her down. He was taking ‘over responsibility’ on all fronts – the resources, the process, the outcomes.
By applying the no personalization rule, he recognized that he did not create the problem at hand. Consequently, it could not be solved by him alone because it was an issue of a lack of resources that the organization itself faced. It was also important to note the bigger picture. Had the bad news gone unreported, the boss would ultimately blame him and may have even accused him of hiding the truth.
He was mindful not to see the conversation as having an all-or-nothing outcome going into the conversation. To help him do this, he created timelines for how long it would be before the situation went from bad to worse, so long as his boss did not step up to support the team.
He also suggested stopping gap arrangements until she could come up with the relevant resources. This alone allowed him to keep his identity as a proactive subordinate and her identity as the boss who had greater power to influence resources. In the end, he was able to make light of a difficult conversation so that there was a positive outcome for both parties involved.
As you can imagine, these 3 tips can be used in virtually any situation, as shown by my client. Understanding how to handle difficult conversations is a skill that will carry you throughout your career. And, as mentioned, those difficult conversations aren’t going anywhere, so it’s best to learn how you can get the most from them.
One of the most essential pieces of advice that I can give surrounding difficult conversations is to recognize that avoiding them will not make the issues at hand go away. Dealing with a problem head-on means experiencing discomfort once as opposed to experiencing it at a deeper level and potentially at a large scale had it been avoided in the first place.
You know what common mistakes people make during difficult conversations, and now, you have the tools to overcome them. Remember, lose the all-or-nothing mentality, don’t personalize it, and see the bigger picture. Break down the issues of the conversation into rational and emotional, and devise a plan to tackle them.
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