7 steps to make difficult conversations easier
Sun 04 March 2012
, Henna Inam, www.theglashammer.com
Coach Henna Inam shared some very useful tips that will make a difficult conversation easier in a recent blog for theglasshammer. Many situations you find yourself in call for conservations to be had. Conversations that often don’t happen, because they are difficult and frankly we’d rather go get a root canal. Inam gives you a step-by-step checklist for making these difficult conversations easier so that they actually happen.
Step 1 – Are You Seeing the Situation Clearly?
Conversations become difficult when our feelings and emotions are involved. If we are emotional about a given situation, our emotions cloud our judgment and ability to see the situation clearly. We often have filters or stories that impact how we see a situation. The first step in a difficult conversation is to look within.
- Look inside yourself to see how your emotions could be distorting how you view the situation.
- Take the time to calm yourself down and get some perspective.
- What are personal beliefs you have about yourself and the other person involved that make the situation charged for you? How would you view the situation differently if these beliefs were not true?
Step 2 – Identify your Intent
It’s important that we are specific about both our short-term goals (the specific asks we want to make) as well as our long-term goals (the importance of the relationships involved).
- Ask yourself what are your desired short term and long term outcomes (e.g. I would like to get more autonomy in making decisions and I want to make sure I preserve the relationship with my boss).
- What specifically are you asking for? (e.g. I would like to be able to make decisions that involve $10,000 or less in my budget).
Step 3 – Put yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes
Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes will help you realize that there are many ways to look at the same situation. We often have a lot invested in “being right” about a given situation or that there is only “one way” to interpret a situation and that is never the case. We need to remind ourselves of our intent (Step #2 above) vs. our unconscious need to be right and to get our way.
- Ask yourself what the other person’s goals are. How could they be viewing the situation? You’ll really need to put yourself in their shoes here.
- Determine what would be the best way to influence them. There are multiple influencing strategies you can employ. Which would work best in this situation?
- What is in it for them to get you your desired outcome? What would be some common goals you both have?
- What could be standing in the way? How could the other person be perceiving the situation? What filters do they have that are influencing them?
Step 4 – Have the Pre-Conversation(s)
Before you have the “Difficult Conversation”, have pre-conversation(s) to get more objective perspective on the situation. The objective of the pre-conversation is to get answers on the questions from above that you are uncertain about.
- During the pre-conversation bring a curious and learning attitude. Be willing listen without judgment and without an investment in you being right and them being wrong. Keep your goal in mind but don’t necessarily make the ask. For example you can say, I would like to have greater autonomy in making decisions and I would like to hear your thoughts on that. What can I do to help us get there?
- Gather input from others on the context/situation. These are people who you can trust will keep the situation confidential and will have good objective perspective.
- Revisit your goals (from Step #2) and see if based on the new information you want to adjust the ask you are making.
Step 5 – Pick the Right Time and Place
When planning a “Difficult Conversation,” the time and place can make a difference in your outcome.
- Make sure the other person is in the right frame of mind (hopefully a time when they have a positive view of you and the relationship is positive or at least neutral).
- Pick the right environment (when noise and disruptions could be minimized and you have enough time to have a quality conversation).
Step 6 – Bring Empathy To The Difficult Conversation
Bringing a learning attitude and empathy lowers the defenses of others and helps you have a more productive conversation. Latest neuroscience research shows the power of limbic resonance which indicates how mammals (including human beings) adapt our emotional states to those around us. If we bring an attitude of empathy to a situation the likely response from another will be to match this attitude.
- Start by putting them at ease (if the situation is difficult for you, it is likely difficult for them). Start with the common objectives you both have and wait for them to acknowledge these objectives.
- Clearly state your desired outcome (from #2) but also let them know that you want to hear their point of view.
- Listen to both their words but more importantly listen for the feelings underneath. People make decisions more from their feelings than their rational mind.
- Help them feel heard by repeating what you’ve heard them say and clarifying it. When people feel heard their resistance lowers. If there are questions you have ask them with curiosity rather than blame.
- Be willing and open to finding a different solution than what you identified in # 2 above. When you are willing to “give up” on your agenda in search of a better solution for everyone, the other person is often likely to reciprocate.
- Summarize the agreements and thank them for being open to listening to you in the conversation. This may or may not be the last conversation on this topic, so leaving it in a way that keeps the door open for a productive future conversation and relationship is important.
Step 7 – Focus on Your Successes
Regardless of outcome of the conversation, your goal in this step is to reflect on what you learned and what you did well. A significant success is your willingness to have a conversation. Another success is developing stronger skills in having a difficult conversation. Yet another may be getting more information during this conversation that will allow you to have a better conversation the next time.
- Journal or write about what worked well. What did you do to create that success? How did the other person contribute to creating that success?
- What did you learn that was new in this conversation?
- How will you be more empowered to have a difficult conversation in the future?
- What is your plan and next steps?
- Our goal is to practice having difficult conversations so they become easier over time. I would also highly recommend a book called “Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most” for in-depth reading and skill building on this topic.
Do comment and let me know which of these steps was most useful for you in planning for and having your difficult conversation. I look forward to connecting with you if you would like to further your personal power in having “Difficult Conversations.”
Read the original blog:
Henna Inam is a CEO Coach focused helping women become transformational leaders. A Wharton MBA, and former C-Suite executive with Novartis and P&G, her passion is to engage, empower, and energize women leaders to transform themselves and their businesses. Sign up for her blog at www.transformleaders.tv.
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