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Difficult Conversations

One of the great challenges in our professional and personal lives is communicating in difficult situations. People often avoid difficult communications hoping the need for them will go away.  Others avoid them because they don’t feel skilled enough to communicate in a positive, clear and specific tmanner. Most of the time a combination of these is prevalent and exacerbates the avoidance cycle.

In the diagram below, notice that any conflict, whether internal or external, can throw us into avoidance. In the specific situation of difficult conversations avoidance often leads to one of three things. We might try to ignore the situation, hoping that it will go away. We might emotionally withdraw from the situation not wanting to invest ourselves any further.  Finally, we might try to appease the person, even though we may inwardly resent the feelings of imbalance in the relationship.

The challenge with any of these, is that resentment and frustration build. Then the communication can go awry at the most inappropriate time. Below are three keys to moving past discomfort and avoidance so that you can have a positive conversation even when the subject is challenging.

  1. Plan your conversation – Ask yourself WIIFT (What’s In It For Them). What are the other person’s goals and values? Intentionally frame the conversation with their values, not yours. Then use a ‘no blame frame’. Show that you value them and their view point. (In the examples below the other person’s values are in bold print.)
  2. Listen – Ask for their viewpoint and then listen to what they say. In depth listening blends mind and heart as well as sensing feeling and intuiting. It includes listening beneath the lines to the implied as well as the literal meaning of what is being said.
  3. Brainstorm together – Once you have communicated and listened. State your goal and engage them in coming up with ways to move forward together.
    • “I know how resourceful you are in different situations and I need your help with something. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
    • “I respect your professionalism and efficiency and I have something I wanted to discuss with you that I feel will help us work more effectively together.”
    • “I value your creativity and your innovative spirit and I’d love to get your ideas on ________. Then I’d like to lay out a plan together that would involve the team in the change process.
    • “You’re such a progressive thinker that I’d like to get your perspective on _______ and then together we might brainstorm some ideas to improve our process.”

I will be doing a full day on giving feedback in difficult situations with CSE in Melbourne in August. I hope to see some of you there!

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