Will I end up hurting that person?
Would it destroy our relationship?
I have no idea how will they react.
Would they retaliate?
These are the few thoughts that occur in our mind when it is time to face the person with honest feedback, an uncomfortable question or breaking a difficult news,
Difficult conversations can take place in any of the domains of lives – be it professional, personal, or social.
Each time we find ourselves in situations where we would have to initiate such conversations, we have that inner voice remind us how it won’t be easy to take it forward. A lot of us end up giving in to this very fear, and procrastinate as much as we can, with some of us never having the conversation at all!
Most of us fear to have them because the thought of having to leave our comfort zones as we look into striking a tough conversation makes us anxious and tensed. The most natural by-product of an anxious mind is anticipating negative futuristic outcomes of situations.
According to a research study, a lot of the things we worry about are not as bad as we envision them to be, with most of them not even coming true – 85% of what the research subjects worried about never happened, to be precise.
In addition to that, the study also stated 79 percent of its participants to have realised that they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning.
Here are Some Tips for Handling Difficult Conversations
Set your objective
To begin with, it is most important for a person to identify their goal of the conversation. Unless we’re unaware of the outcome that we wish to achieve at the end of our conversation, we may end up lacking a sense of direction.
What do you wish to accomplish through the means of your conversation?
What would achieving the desired outcome means to you and another person?
How do you see your life shaping up if you were to experience success with your talk?
The above are some of the questions one must have answers to before they go about chalking out a structured way of approaching those whom they wish to converse with.
The same theory could also apply to situations where one would be looking forward to giving or receiving feedback.
Prepare a layout
The whole point of a difficult conversation is that it requires a person to move out of their comfort zone in order to initiate it. While things are mostly easier said than done, here the focus remains on one’s uneasiness while looking to say something.
It is thus always best to first create a blueprint of what you would like to express to the concerned persons in terms of content, approach, etc. No, you don’t necessarily have to prepare a speech of course!
Being clear about your why-what-how i.e., why do you wish to have a difficult conversation, what do you wish to convey through it, and how will you go about initiating/executing the conversation boosts one’s preparedness and enables them to be a person of their words.
For instance: When a person is looking to break a bad news to somebody – be it an intense disclosure, or a breakup, it is always safe to have a fair understanding of how would you like the conversation to begin, what should its flow be like, and how would you like it to conclude.
Keeping calm in the moment of confrontation/retaliation
According to Professor Plutchik, the wide variety of emotions carried and experienced by every individual have the tendency to follow a path.
For instance: What starts as an annoyance can move to anger, and in extreme cases, escalate to rage.
So the question here is – how can one avoid this?
Well, we can avoid this by being mindful of preserving the person’s dignity, and treat them with respect even in the times when we may totally disagree with them.
A great way to maintain our composure even while one may be caught up in a moment of heat is to be cautious of our tone, pitch, as well as the kind of words that we use in our conversation.
Be patient during those moments of silence
Sometimes, a part and parcel of a difficult conversation is the silence. For somebody who is looking to share their views over a topic that may require them to step out of their comfort zones, the same may be the case with the other parties involved in the talk as well.
It is just important to acknowledge the fact that there may be moments of silence during a difficult conversation, and that is alright. One need not always panic over it and try to rush over things by attempting to fill the gap with words.
If we go to perceive it in the positive light, a pause can have a calming effect, and help the ones involved in a conversation connect better. That said, an added benefit of periodic silences, especially during difficult conversations is that it allows us to not just hear what was said, but also replay it in our minds in order to let the message sink in.
Acknowledge the value of your bond
The key here is to express your thoughts without erecting an irreparable wall between you and the person. This can be achieved through both verbal and non-verbal acknowledgment of your relationship with the other person(s) involved in the conversation with you.
Discussions over sensitive topics, especially with one’s parents or close friends can feel quite scary. The anticipation regarding the outcomes of the talk, and whether the desired result would be achieved in the end can feel overwhelming.
Be consistent in what you say, as well as your conduct. Whether an individual is a person of their words or not goes a long way into reflecting upon their confidence levels as far as their intent is concerned.
Ensuring that the objective/goal of your conversation is fair is one way to sustain consistency during the same. Another way of boosting self-consistency is by means of initiating, as well as maintaining a consistent approach towards your situation. It will help you with handling difficult conversations.
For example: While giving employees a performance feedback, it is always best for a manager to maintain uniform policy, rules and expectations from each member.
Be careful with where you initiate the conversation
By where I literally mean the location where you decide to initiate your talk with the concerned persons. Choose your place of conversation wisely. The overall environment one creates can impact the course of the conversation, which is crucial to its success.
Factors like the temperature and ambience of a place do tend to cast an impact upon a person (including the receiver). Choosing a neutral place with a calm, soothing aura would ensure the external comfort of an individual.
As a result, a well thought out location can have a great contributing roleplay towards one maintaining their composure and being more open to a healthy conversation over an unhealthy one.
Listen to understand; not just to respond
With difficult conversations, more often than not we find ourselves to be over-inclined towards hearing what the other person has to say – not because we wish to truly understand them, but because we want to chalk out our next reply to what they have to say, or what they’ve just said.
At times, it is more about making an effort to actually introspect and establish a deep understanding of somebody’s words than to be solely focused on their responses just so that we can figure out our own.
Figure your course of action if the conversation is not a success
Lastly, no matter what the situation may be, it is always better to be prepared for both success and failure. While on one hand, it is important for a person to maintain an optimistic outlook and focus upon ensuring a productive conversation; on the other hand, it is equally important to have a Plan B in mind.
What if the conversation does not go as planned? How would you want to conduct yourself in a situation where you are unable to achieve the desired outcome? Would you choose to stick to your objective despite a conflict of interest with the other persons involved in the conversation?
While not being able to accomplish a favorable conversation may feel quite disheartening, having clarity with regard to one’s approach towards their goal in such a scenario would provide them with a desirable life to look forward to, and help them move ahead over being stuck in one place.
Difficult conversations can trigger anxiousness within us, no doubt. Even then, we will never know whether it could have benefited us or not unless we don’t decide to have them. The key is to plan things out and keep the talk respectful while not making it appear like an ambush! 🙂