Whether it is in a business setting or a personal relationship, we have all faced a situation where there is a conversation that needs to happen and yet we keep putting it off. Often, we might be looking for the right moment to approach a delicate subject in the midst of managing life’s many other demands. Other times it simply becomes the thing we put off because we don’t want to cause conflict.
Whatever the reason for the delay, I would like to talk to you today about difficult conversations and how you can face them. I would also like to give you a few tools that might even change your mind in the future about postponing these types of conversations.
HOW TO HAVE A GOOD CONVERSATION
To begin with, I felt it might be helpful for us to examine what a good conversation might look like. Often, we have an idea in our head of how the conflict is going to play out but maybe we didn’t stop to think about what “good” looks like.
I find this to be a helpful exercise because not everyone is starting from the same place. Not everyone has the same idea of what a conversation should look like. This helps to set the ground rules.
So, what should the framework look like? In the book How to Have That Difficult Conversation: Gaining the Skills for Honest and Meaningful Communication, Dr. Cloud & Dr. Townsend detail several steps that they consider to be essential. I’ll cover just a few here today.
1. Be Emotionally Present – This seems like it would be common sense, but I also know the number of times I have been in a conversation where I thought I was ready, prepared, and yet I was not fully emotionally present. Maybe I had a stressful day or a stressful week. Either way, the conversation should have been tabled until I could prepare myself to be in the right emotional headspace for what was being discussed. This does not mean you put off things indefinitely because life is stressful. It just means having the self-awareness to realize when a conversation might need to wait a day. You want to be showing up as the best version of yourself. Not detached, distant or cold.
2. Clarify the Problem – Too often when we get into conversations about things, we feel a lot of emotion around it can be easy to become distracted by other issues. When having a productive conversation about a conflict it is helpful to clarify what the core issue is that you want to discuss. Try to not deviate from this one subject. If other topics come up, agree to table those for another time.
3. Be Specific – Have you ever asked for feedback from your boss and been given a bunch of generalities? It can be really frustrating when someone can’t be specific in a situation that requires a specific example. When you are heading into a conversation that may be challenging, take the time to write down some specific examples of the behavior you want to change or the situation you want to discuss. Be as specific as possible. It is hard to change something if the example is vague and difficult for the person to recall.
BENEFITS OF CONFLICT
Now that you have a few tools to have the conversation itself let’s talk a little bit about the benefits of healthy conflict. There are several reasons that difficult conversations can be beneficial, but I want to talk about two:
1. It Can Broaden Your Mind – Having these types of conversations causes you to be more open to another person’s point of view. In this highly charged emotional time this can be a real benefit by allowing us to expand existing ideas as well as becoming more tolerant of others.
“A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” – Tim Ferriss
2. You Can Rewire Your Brain – Having new experiences can actually cause you to form new pathways in your brain. When these experiences are different than what you expected them to be you can literally rewire your brain to form new pathways due to something called neuroplasticity.
If you didn’t learn to have difficult conversations, don’t worry, you aren’t alone. It is a skill that most of us have had to learn as adults. The ability to successfully negotiate these conversations can make a huge impact on both your personal and professional life. If you need help learning how to have better conversations, how to manage conflict, or how to manage your emotions, get in touch.
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