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Having difficult conversations

Imagine a world where you don’t need to invest needless energy into worrying about an issue, where you feel able to deal with it and resolve it. Imagine being able to have an adult to adult conversation about a tricky subject without fear of repercussions.

What would you gain?

You would carry less stress and worry around with you so you would get more done.  You would be able to focus on the important stuff and not waste time and energy worrying about dealing with an issue.  Depending on what the issue is, dealing with it may increase productivity, reduce mistakes, improve customer service or staff morale.  If nothing else, it would clear the air and get rid of the elephant in the room!

Some compelling reasons for tackling those difficult conversations wouldn’t you agree?   So, what stops us from having those difficult conversations?

You will have your own reasons, and they are likely to include one or more of the following:

  1. fear, of the emotions that might be surface as a result
  2. embarrassment, at having to tackle the issue
  3. doubt, about your right to have that conversation or whether it is in fact a significant enough issue to have to tackle
  4. hassle, potentially it will be more difficult to deal with than not
  5. past experience, of how that person is likely to react, or how others have reacted to similar conversations in the past
  6. concern, about rocking the boat, we like things on an even keel so there is a danger confronting this issue will disrupt that and cause more problems.

Often we don’t want to be the one to stick our head above the parapet and deal with tricky issues.

You see,  if you feel there is something that needs to be said, there is a significant possibility you are not alone.  Whether it is giving your boss feedback about his communication style, discussing a colleagues lack of contribution to a project or informing a staff member they have a body odour problem…..if you see the need for the conversation, the chances are that someone else sees the need too.  So, you will gain respect and admiration from others for dealing with it.

One key factor to have in your mind is that by having that difficult conversation what you are doing is increasing the pool of shared understanding between you and the other person.  You are opening up a dialogue (which means “free flow of meaning between two or more people”).

A larger shared pool of understanding leads to smarter decisions, finding a way forward and improving situations in a mutually agreeable way.  Often the reason problems fester is because the pool of shared understanding is limited.

How do I increase the shared pool of understanding?

Identify what is in your pool of knowledge and what is in theirs.  What, if anything, overlaps?

How do you do that?

  1. State your understanding of the situation
  2. Invite them to share theirs
  3. Check your story against theirs, clarify facts
  4. Compare and contrast your stories
  5. Empathise and respect their view
  6. Agree the need to find a way forward
  7. Identify the first steps – share responsibility for moving forward

The main aim should always be to get information and facts into the shared pool of understanding, only then can you truly understand and empathise with each other.

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