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Difficult Conversations

It will be a scary, teeth-grinding conversation, and you’re unsure how to handle it. It must be sooner than later. 

Here’s how to finish it well, smiling about the result.

If you could listen in on the call, you would hear, “I want to be sure I know what to say and how to say it.”  I hear this sentiment often and help people communicate masterfully in difficult conversations.

This is not surprising.  After all, who teaches us how to do these things, especially when the stakes are high?  For me, it’s been a lifetime of studying human behavior, studying communication, studying how the brain works, and practicing the art intentionally.  Even then, I miss the mark more often than I want.

Our clients use coaching to gain more confidence about exactly what to say, skill in how to say it, and how to mindfully manage their emotions in the process.  The positive outcomes they report prove the effectiveness of our work together.

Here are a few general tips that can help you do the same.

Please don’t be embarrassed or afraid if you do not know these things.  You are not alone.  True Course coaching and Birkman consulting help professionals leave difficult conversations smiling or, at the very least, with a sense of having accomplished what they intended.  We can help you do the same. Contact us today!

A Few General Tips for Masterful Communication in Difficult Circumstances

  1. Craft your message and strategy before the encounter. Weakness in this area is often what generated the need for a corrective conversation to begin with.
    1. Take notes on the message you want to send so it will be crystal clear and concise.
    2. Think through contingencies that could show up in the conversation and plan for how you could handle them.
    3. Clearly identify the gap between what you need from the other person and their current behavior/performance. Detail the effect the gap has on you, your colleagues, and the organization. Be ready to Affirm their worth and value to the organization and work with them to close the gap.
    4. Use “I” messages, taking responsibility only for what you know and own. Avoid the use of “you” since using it can feel accusative. Instead, use third-person references to describe the issues.
  2. Clarify your intentions for the conversation. Let your conversation partner know what you intend and don’t intend, what you want and don’t want from the conversation.  This can lower anxiety and help establish a sense of psychological safety.
  3. Invite dialog versus simply “dropping a bomb” and then “dropping the mic.”
    1. Invite others to talk with you. In most instances of communication, we try to “tell” another person what we want and not necessarily hear what they are thinking.
    2. Use more questions. A two-way dialog will take more time, but the time you spend gaining clarity will be cheaper than the lost time, money, and relational equity you are currently experiencing.
    3. As you deliver your message, incorporate questions that embody genuine curiosity and wonder. This will help ensure clarity and cultivate dialog.
  4. Avoid assuming anything. Stop assuming people understand or even receive/hear what you say.  Check to determine what they heard, especially the main point(s). I am frequently surprised by what people think I said.  At True Course, we teach masterful ways of doing this that won’t make you seem arrogant or condescending.
  5. Establish and preserve psychological safety. Create a calm, rational environment that invites openness, honesty, and vulnerability, where people feel comfortable being themselves, expressing their thoughts, and admitting their mistakes. Full-bodied, accurate, productive communication becomes only possible if you do this. Here’s why.
  6. Listen patiently and avoid thinking of the next thing you want to say. Don’t interrupt.  When the person stops speaking, count to 3 before speaking again.
  7. Use “sense of self,” reflecting to the other person what you sense may be happening in their voice and body language. What you sense is happening may or may not be accurate, but expressing it can open communication to new depths.
  8. Use the most advantageous channels. You can use email or text if your message is short, unemotional, and involves only maintenance communication. If your message is emotional or more than maintenance, use the phone or face-to-face meetings to ensure your desired outcome.  Your words are only 7% of communication. The rest is visual and auditory, body language and voice (tone, volume, pitch, etc.)
  9. Invite collaboration – Involve your conversation partner in crafting a solution to the issue(s) that created the need for the conversation.
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