A situation been slowly building and it’s now taking up vital energy and thoughts. Maybe there’s a situation or conversation where you weren’t clear in the moment to speak up, but it feels too important to just let it go. But what if you’re not confident speaking up? Or tend to avoid conflict? How do you start the conversation?
A common challenge for anyone that tends to avoid conflict, is being scared of being disliked or judged harshly. This need to be liked, or not upset anyone, often has the opposite effect of what you intend. If you only seek to be liked, you may never earn the respect that will allow you to be heard, as well as progress in your career. The manner that you approach difficult conversations, if handled well, can earn a level of respect more valuable and impactful than just being liked.
Motivation and Preparation
Before you broach the subject, understand your own motivation and the outcome you’re looking for. If you’ve understood the crux of the issue, rather than just the event itself, then it will be easier to stay on topic. Focus on the longer term outcomes you’re looking for, and trust that most people want positive outcomes as well.
To prepare for a difficult conversation, people often spend a great deal of time focusing on what they’ll say and working out a script. The challenge with all this preparation is the focus becomes what you’re saying, instead of what the other person is saying. If you’re absorbed in your own thoughts, you won’t be able to respond as well as you’d like. If the conversation goes off script, you may feel derailed and end up with a messier situation than when you started. Make notes and have a general outline of the message you want to get across.
Having the Difficult Conversation
Raise the conversation in a clear and respectful way. When you start the discussion, make your points succinctly. A common habit of people avoiding conflict is to make a point and then caveat or reframe it a few more times. This dilutes the focus and may confuse the main issue you’re trying to raise. Be direct and then wait for their response.
Relate it to how you felt or perceived. Avoid making statements that seemingly attack the other person, such as ‘you made that happen’. A common reaction if someone feels attacked is to become defensive and shut down the conversation. Be curious about their experience of the situation and how it may be resolved.
Be open to a different perspectives but know your own limits. If you’re talking with someone that tends to be dominant, be clear, stay on topic and know how you want to exit the conversation.
While difficult conversations are exactly that, if you are feeling stuck by the situation, or spending too much time ruminating over a situation or relationship, then don’t put it off. Imagine what six months time may look and feel like if you were brave enough to have the conversation.