Top 7 Tips for Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Conversations
By Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger
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Weíve all had itóthe heavy feeling in the pit of the stomach, the pounding heart, the desire to just walk the other way and hope things get better on their own. They donít. Difficult conversations are necessary if we want things to improve. And they donít need to make us feel sick. Just take a deep breath and follow these steps.
- Know your purpose.
Know exactly what you want to happen as a result of the conversation. If youíre not sure what you want, donít start the conversation! Wait until you can put into words your reason for having the conversation. ďIím angry,Ē isnít a reason. Finish this sentence: ďAt the end of the conversation, I wantÖĒ Thatís your purpose.
- Know the other personís purpose.
If the conversation is difficult for you, chances are itís not easy for the other person either. And you probably donít want the same outcome. What is the goal of the other person? If you donít have any idea, you need to do some serious thinking and ask some questions. You need to know what the other person wants before you can be successful.
- Choose the best time and place to have the conversation.
Itís tempting to procrastinate and then just fall into the conversation when it appears. This is usually not a good idea. Difficult conversations take preparation, so prepare. Think about when and where you and the other person are most likely to have the best possible conversation. Choose a time when youíll have a good chance of not being interrupted. Choose a location that feels ďneutralĒ to both of you. Things will to better when both people are comfortable.
- Start with good news.
What will be the mutual benefit of making the change or taking the action or stopping the actionówhatever you are suggesting? If you are responding to another person who is complaining, shift to benefits quickly. Mention why it is good to have the conversation. Even ďclearing the airĒ or understanding the views of the other person is a good outcome. Make it clear there is a good reason to have an unpleasant conversation.
- Focus on the other person.
Whatever is making this difficult, being disrespectful or rude is likely to make things worse. Demonstrate respect by listening and trying to understand. Donít interrupt, and donít bring up the past. Look for points of agreement, focus on the good outcome youíve established. Set a goal of listening much more than you speak and stick to it.
- Manage emotions.
Difficult conversations come with emotions. In fact, many (if not most) conversations come with emotions. They just seem harder to deal with in difficult conversations. Donít deny them or pretend they donít exist. Donít tell the other person not to feel something. Donít pretend you donít feel anything. Ignored or denied emotions tend to fester and pop out at the wrong time. Instead acknowledge and manage the emotions. Set up parameters at the beginning of the conversation. Agree to stop if things get too emotional. Donít participate in the other personís anger or frustration. Speak slowly and quietly. Keep things at calm on your end, even if the other person becomes upset.
- Whatever happens during the conversation, come to closure.
If you stop because emotions get too high, agree what will happen next. If you came to an agreement, clarify what it is. Agree about what happened during the conversation. Agree about the new reality. Agree about the disagreements that remain. Difficult conversations donít always make everything fine. The final part of the conversation is an important place to establish what happened, what didnít happen, and what still needs to happen. This could very well make future conversations less difficult.
Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger works with people who wish to take control of their conversations to create more personal and professional success. Visit http://www.brighttorchcommunication.com to sign up for tips on effective communication and powerful conversation strategies.
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Article Submitted On: October 12, 2012