“I‘m sorry, what did you say?!”

Most of us are not very skilled at having difficult conversations, and when we go in to address a challenging situation, we are generally ill prepared. Especially when it’s a conversation you will be having with someone you are emotionally close to. Whether it’s your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, mother, brother, sister, father, best friend or business partner, the conversation usually ends up with bruised and battered egos.  As a Life Coach, business women, wife, daughter, sister and mother, I’ve had a lot of experience with difficult conversations.

So how do you best have these conversations?  First let’s look at your track record. If you are great at difficult conversations, then just skim through the rest of the article, maybe there is a tip or trick that can help to enhance these discussions.  If you have difficulty however, you need to keep reading closely!

What is the purpose of the conversation?  Are you addressing behavior, performance, or attitude? Perhaps you have to deliver some bad news?  You must be clear on the reason for this conversation and what outcome you would like from it.

What is the relationship you have with this person?  There is going to be a difference in how the conversation is perceived depending on your position in the relationship.  Are you equals? Or is there an unequal balance of power/authority? If you are the person who holds the perceived power, ie you are the boss or parent or the client, the person on the receiving end may come into this conversation already feeling self-defeated because of the perceived imbalance of power.  Let’s be honest , how many times have you gotten your way because you knew you had the balance of power and you simply wielded it like a sword? How did that work out for you? Don’t get me wrong, if you are dealing with a two year old, maybe the “sword” is necessary. But most of the time, equality has to be explicitly laid out so that all parties are comfortable during the conversation.

What baggage are you bringing with you?  Every time we enter to into a difficult conversation, we bring to it the experience of similar past conversations.  For example, in the past if you have been on the receiving end of the conversation and it was not a conversation but more of a yelling match, you may come into the conversation defensive and ready to fight because there is no way you are going to go through that experience again!  

What is your emotional state?  Are you calm or are your emotions clouding your better judgement?  It is never a good idea to start addressing issues or concerns while you are in an agitated or negative emotional state.  The conversation will definitely be a disaster. In order to have a conversation that will be mutually beneficial, you must be clear headed and grounded beforehand.  For example (one near and dear to my heart) your husband has left the cap off of the oil bottle for the umpteen time and you are fuming mad! You just cannot believe that he has done it again!  Your face is flushed with anger and you call out his name, actually you don’t call, you yell! What response do you think you are going to get in this scenario? Clearly this issue is not has important to him as it is to you, that being said if you address it in this condition, I highly doubt that any effort he makes to explain is going to be heard by you.  On the reverse, he may just shut you out because you are yelling and out of control!

Be open to the other person’s perspective.  Sorry people, but you are not perfect and you are not always right!  Of course you are entitled to your opinion and views, but you must keep in mind that the other person also has views and opinions which they hold near and dear to their heart!  It’s essential to have an open mind, even if you do have an agenda. You never know what you can learn from someone else’s perspective of a situation. You must also acknowledge there are going to be differences and sometimes you’ll need to agree to disagree.  

Be clear and concise, do not accuse or tell the other person how they should feel about the situation, remember it’s all about perspective and acknowledging the differences.   In the example of the oil cap, the conversation could look like a yelling match or you could address it once you have calmed down and start off like this: When you leave the cap off of the oil, it makes me feel like you don’t care about me or what’s important to me.  When I see things out of place, I feel uneasy and I don’t want to feel that way at home. What do you think we could do that would help you remember to put the cap back?

I know it sounds a little contrived but that’s because it is.  Having a difficult conversation can be less difficult if you look at it from a win-win point of view instead of a win-lose situation.  Difficult conversations are uncomfortable but what is most important is that you have them. You must keep communication at the forefront of every relationship and the emphasis must always be on how can we both come out winners in the conversation!

It is my honour to serve you!  God Bless!

Nina Ganguli