How to Deal with Difficult Conversations

Taking the time to prepare for a hard conversation is the key to it ending well.

Posted Dec 10, 2014

No one likes to be caught off guard. But life sometimes throws us curveballs and we may find ourselves confronted with difficult situations that we feel unprepared to handle. The need to speak our truth arises, yet we often shun the opportunity.

Why?

Having that hard talk is, well, hard. 

Good communications skills aren't born overnight. It takes a lot of practice to say what you mean and have the other person hear you. For some it comes more naturally than others.

Whether we feel prepared to handle whatever comes our way or not, inevitably we will all be challenged by "that conversation" we've been avoiding for a while. It involves having to change something, which can be tough.

Change is always difficult because it brings up a lot of things we'd rather not examine. It calls up our weaknesses and our blind spots. We are confronted, challenged and greatly unsettled by the newness of it all.

And yet change is also a way of tilling the Earth to bring in new, fertile ground. It is as necessary as oxygen. In a way, change means evolution. If we aren't changing, we aren't growing. And if we aren't growing, we are dying.

And no one really wants to live in a state of death.

Ironically, change also brings death, the ending of the way we used to be. We have the opportunity to alter our thoughts, actions and behaviors to become more aligned with who we truly are.

Forgiveness can help.

It seems as though 2014 has been the Year of Difficult Conversations. I have had a lot of them - as recently as last week when a client admitted to me that he was sorry the way our project failed; that he appreciated my professionalism through it all; that he is embracing the Power of Slow as his world topples too. It was a magical moment of grace as I realized he could actually hear me say, "It was frustrating to know that my best didn't yield what you were looking for."

It was a conversation of forgiveness - and it moved me in ways I have yet to fully realize.

What I have also learned this year is that while difficult conversations may sting like hell, they are like wildfires that burn away the debris for new life to emerge. If we don't express what we truly think and feel, those words burn us from the inside out.

As I have mentioned, speaking your truth takes a lot of practice. A few things have helped me along the way whenever I've had to have an uncomfortable conversation:

  1. Prepare your key message. Practice what you are going to say. Start from the ending. How do you want the conversation to end? Begin it with that intention in mind.
  2. In some cases, it is helpful to actually say, "No matter what I am about to say, I want you to know that I care about you/the project/our collaboration, etc. You matter to me - my telling you this is actually an act of trust that you can hear me."
  3. Do not take anything the other person says personally. It is not about you, your worth or your position in life.
  4. Actively listen to the other person. Do not allow distractions such as your smartphone or Facebook status get in the way. It shows respect when you give the other person your full attention.

You may feel like a toddler, waddling from one piece of furniture to the next as you hang on for dear life whilst falling periodically on your butt. But I promise you it will get better, your relationships will grow stronger and the ones that end as a result of your honesty were not meant to be in your life anyway.

**Photo credit: Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr

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