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Top 10 Ways to Handle Difficult Conversations

Conversations are a part of our daily life. Have you ever noticed that there are some conversations that you look forward to having and there are others that you would rather ignore?

One thing is for sure, those difficult conversations that we tend to avoid or pretend to forget (wish would go away), never really go away and fallout from conversations gone wrong is not pretty: trust and intimacy suffer, while resentment and misunderstanding build.

Regardless, it is possible to improve the way we handle our most difficult personal and professional conversations. I invite you to consider the following when there is a difficult conversation:

1. Create an agenda. Lay out the problem to be discussed, indicate that you want to hear the other person’s perspective and to speak your own, and that you would like to find some solutions together.

2. Set aside your judgments and listen. Until people feel heard and safe, they won’t have the mind-space to hear you.

3. Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. The authors of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most found that people typically spend about 10% of a difficult conversation on inquiry and 90% on advocating a position. A better balance leads to a better outcome.

4. Be intentional to understand what people are thinking, feeling and needing, not just saying. Ask yourself, “Why is this person telling me this? What am I not noticing?”

5. Keep the focus on understanding what is happening between the two of you, rather than “winning” or being right.

6. Acknowledge the feelings. They are often at the heart of every difficult conversation—and they matter. Don’t allow the feelings to sabotage the conversation. Get clear on the truth, as well.

7. Stay supportive, curious and committed to problem-solving. Your attitude will greatly influence what you say.

8. Notice when you become off-center. Are your emotions getting the best of you? Breathe. Choose to return to yourself and your purpose.

9. Return to asking questions about the other’s point of view if the conversation becomes adversarial.

10. Be persistent in your efforts to keep the conversation constructive.

Which of these 10 strategies do you struggle with most? Where do you feel that you could use some support?

Conversations is a topic that inevitably comes up in my coaching sessions. There is often a feeling of powerlessness and a struggle to keep emotions from taking over.

If you are finding this to be a challenging area in your life, reach out to me and let’s see if coaching is right for you.


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