A guide to approaching difficult conversations and keeping your cool
Conversations are most effective when both parties feel respected and able to share their point of view. However, it’s not always easy to create an atmosphere where this is possible. The higher the stakes and bigger the anticipated disagreement, the more difficult it seems. Preparation is key, but when the time to talk arrives, keeping in mind a few crucial points will help ensure a respectful and constructive conversation follows.
Be genuinely curious:
Many disagreements stem from assumptions and interpretations. Meeting the other person with an open and explorative mindset will change the dynamic. Listen to their views and you may discover things you didn’t expect.
Whatever’s happened, looking to assign blame will only block the path to finding a common way forward. The accused is likely to become defensive, and possibly aggressive. Instead of pointing the finger, concentrate on finding common ground and discussing how to move forward.
Always play the ball, never the player:
Have you ever witnessed an argument that stemmed from something small, and quickly escalated into a series of large-scale attacks on everything the other person stood for? Using a small argument as an opportunity for an all-encompassing personal attack rarely leads to a positive outcome. It’s vital to concentrate on what’s prompted the conversation, and stick to it.
Difficult conversations are bound to get emotional sometimes. Whether it’s anger, cynicism, tears or rage, emotion tells you that what’s going on matters.
An ideal conversation will result in finding a way forward that, even if not universally liked, will have been discussed and acknowledged by everyone involved. Make sure you summarise these outcomes, actions and agreements.
When the issue is off the table, be sure to have another unrelated interaction with this person before too long. Show them that just because one issue needed addressing, it hasn’t impacted your relationship.