Val Baldwin, CPC
Live Your Ultimate Life

Unless you live alone in a cave, difficult conversations are going to come up from time to time with your family, friends and people at work. It’s a part of life. Your 3 choices are to:

  • Avoid it….which won’t solve anything
  • Handle it poorly
  • Or handle it well

If your goal is to keep healthy, respectful relationships in all areas of your life then follow these 6 steps and you’ll never have to worry about a difficult conversation again.

KEEP IT PRIVATE AND PREPARE YOURSELF. Everyone deserves the respect to have a sensitive subject addressed in private. This includes dealing with your children too. You don’t want to increase their embarrassment or make the situation more uncomfortable having others around. This will only bring out resentment and anger from the person you are addressing.

Prepare yourself by first getting your heart and head right before approaching the subject. Think through what you’re going to say, what impact it will have, and why it matters. Write out a script and practice in front of the mirror to help you feel comfortable if needed.

DO IT AS SOON AS YOU CAN AND STICK TO THE FACTS. Don’t let a lot of time go by before you say anything. Letting the issue sit will not make it go away but will make it bigger. Resentment sets in when there is a problem or a difficult situation and nothing is being done to solve it. Stick to the facts as you know them. Jumping to conclusions by creating stories in your mind will only cause additional contention.

For instance let’s say you noticed your teenage son’s shirt had a strong alcohol smell when you did a load of laundry. It’s natural to create all kinds of stories in your head that you assume are facts. Instead of going into attack mode and accusing your son of being a huge partier and assuming it must be because he’s now friends with that new boy down the street from the troubled family, stick to the facts. Say something like this: “Hey John. I don’t want to jump to any wrong conclusions but I noticed your shirt smelled like alcohol when I did the laundry today. Will you tell me about this?”

DISCUSS ONLY ONE ISSUE AT A TIME. There may be many issues you want to discuss but too many at one time can be overwhelming and it will be difficult to come to a solution. You don’t want the person to feel like they are under interrogation.

SPEAK IN A CALM, MODERATE TONE. Using a loud voice and accusatory tone is intimidating and will be seen as aggression and send the other person into silence or violence mode. The result is no one listens and both parties lose. You need to make them feel safe to have this conversation with you. If either of you starts losing control of your emotions, then agree to take a time-out and come back together once you’ve both calmed down.

GIVE THE PERSON A CHANCE TO STATE THEIR FEELINGS OR OPINION. Ask them for their point of view after you have brought up the issue and expressed your concerns. If you think you have heard something that you do not like, ask them to repeat it and try to understand – do not get defensive. Sometimes we assume we know the whole story and in our quest to be ‘right’ we only half listen. Instead of listening to understand we listen to contradict and are busily thinking about our rebuttal when the other person is talking. Look them directly in the eye, listen to truly understand and don’t interrupt. Ask them if there is anything else they want to say before you begin to talk again.

LOOK AT THE ISSUE FROM THEIR POINT OF VIEW. Do not assume you know what the other person is thinking or that you know the whole story. By trying to understand why a person would behave the way they did, it creates empathy instead of aggression and will help you approach the sensitive subject in a calmer, more rational way. For instance the situation with your boss who has been throwing tirades during staff meetings recently. Perhaps she is dealing with something difficult at home, or she’s under intense pressure with work deadlines, or she’s dealing with a health challenge. You never know. By trying to walk in their shoes, it may help explain their behavior. It doesn’t make the behavior right. It just helps you calm down, and approach the person in a more open, respectful way.

You now have the tools to handle difficult conversations. Stop putting them off and go make it happen!

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