No-one actually likes having a difficult conversation. Indeed, most of us dread it and freely admit to avoiding conflict (or even the potential of conflict) at all costs. However tempting it is to put things off, it is healthier for you and your relationships in the long run if you learn how to approach situations where discord or disagreement is likely.
The two basic rules are (1) change your mindset and (2) plan ahead.
1. Change your mindset
- Swap negative thinking for positive expectations
The usual thinking before a potentially unpleasant conversation is negative. The more we think it will be “difficult”, the more this tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Expect a good outcome instead. Approach the conversation as… an opportunity to clarify, clear the air, find mutually beneficial solutions, repair a damaged relationship, provide constructive feedback or to simply listen to what the other person has to say.
- Start from a place of respect and stay away from the “blame game”
Truth can be subjective and there are often two sides to every story. Aim for respect and ask for respect in return. It is perfectly possible to empathise with someone’s emotional perspective and still agree to disagree. Focus on the facts not feelings; and judge actions, not the person. Look for solutions instead of just seeking to attribute blame
- Stop worrying about being liked and leave space for reactions
Wanting to be liked can get in the way of delivering a tough message and make you nervous about how the other person will respond. You cannot control what the other person says and does, but you can be emotionally ready to handle things calmly and neutrally. Be ready to listen and learn and not just to talk.
2. Plan ahead
- Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today
We agree it needs a degree of courage to speak up, provide negative feedback or be the bearer of bad news. However, being pro-active and choosing to address something difficult directly and head-on to means that you can select the right time and place rather than circumstances taking you by surprise.
- Be clear and realistic about what you want to achieve
Decide what would be a good and realistic outcome for you. Then ask yourself some questions. Will this be acceptable to the other person? What do you think is important to them? What would be a good outcome for them? Can you identify a solution that is mutually acceptable to both?
- Work out what you want to say but stay flexible
If it’s important to choose the right words and tone to deliver your message and make sure it is received as you intend, it can be helpful to prepare what you want to say and how you want to say it. Keep it clear, simple and direct. But remember that the most constructive conversations are a two-way dialogue – so stay open and be flexible.
Why not find out how good you are at communication in general? Take our online Communication Skills Test!