Can you remember a difficult conversation that you had recently? What made the conversation difficult? Were you happy with the outcome? How about the person that you had the difficult conversation with – were they satisfied with the conversation?
Intimate conversations or conversations that revolve around disagreement are difficult. Are there some conversations in particular that are difficult for you? I recently asked a group of people (okay, it was a seminar on Making Difficult Conversations Easier) and here are some of the conversations that they found difficult to engage in:
- Money conversations – (asking for a raise, asking for money back)
- Delivering bad/hard messages (you’re fired)
- Being vulnerable about my feelings (I love you)
- Confronting behaviours
What makes these conversations difficult?
Sometimes we don’t know the outcome… usually difficult conversations have some risk involved with them.
Sometimes we actually know the outcome and we worry about how we might be perceived by the person that we are having the conversation with. Other times, the stakes are high; we might be misunderstood and we may not achieve the outcome that we want or envision.
Our difficult conversations can hurt the people we care about. We worry that our anger will get the better of us. We might make the situation worse. Or there might be a backlash – we might get punished for speaking out.
To Have or Not to Have
It’s hard to decide whether to have a difficult conversation or not. If you don’t you might feel taken advantage of. You might harbour lingering negative feelings about someone. But if you do have the conversation… things might get worse. In fact, you may already have tried and you have suffered some of these consequences:
- You were verbally attacked and you didn’t know what to do next
- You were rejected and (as my father used to say) you were “put in the deep freeze for your trouble”
- The relationship deteriorated
Do you avoid difficult conversations?
Sometimes when you suffer the negative outcomes of failed conversations, you avoid having them in the future. How do you avoid conversations?
- Did you decide that you will never initiate a difficult conversation again? For some of us, certain conversations are so threatening that we will continually overlook an issue or leave the relationship rather than engage. The problem with this kind of avoidance is that trust cannot be built in the relationship nor can the relationship grow or develop.
- Did you take some indirect action without having a conversation? Some times we decide that we will not discuss an issue or behaviour but we will stay on the alert for repeats of behaviours that have offended us. We no longer trust the other person and will be wary of the other’s motives and intentions. While we have managed to avoid the danger and risk of having the conversation, we destroy the fabric of trust in the relationship.
- Were you willing to start the difficult conversation but you gave in when the going got rough (your thinking is “okay, you are so upset that we will do it your way”). In this scenario we value peace more than valuing our own boundaries. We fear losing the connection with our friend/lover/partner/child so we give in.
Engaging in difficult conversations
Just as we can avoid difficult conversations in a variety of ways, we can engage in them in just as many ways. We can:
- Approach the conversation with an “I will win and you will lose” attitude. I am right and you are wrong. With this stance, the issue is more important than the relationship and a successful outcome for both people is unlikely.
- Approach the conversation with an attitude that I want to hear what you have to say. Although this is a difficult conversation, I will engage in the discussion because I care about you, I care about the issue, I care about the relationship. With this attitude, there is a great possibility of being able to navigate through the issue and come out the other side with a stronger bond between us.
Where are you on the difficult conversation spectrum? Do you avoid? How do you avoid? Do you engage in them? And what stance do you assume when you do engage… Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.