Unless you enjoy confrontation or have a psychopathic tendency chances are you do not enjoy challenging conversations. You may need to deliver difficult or unpleasant news, talk about a delicate subject, or deal with something that needs to change or has gone wrong. Sometimes even just thinking about having these conversations can create a feeling of anxiety or even panic. If you begin to ruminate about the conversation to come you can easily become distracted from the present moment and make mistakes in the present.
I love the word ‘challenging’ in this context. It is rather like when I say that I never have an argument I only have energetic conversations. You may need to be reprimand someone, creating boundaries for them that they will not want, or deliver bad news, perhaps a bereavement, redundancy, job loss and so on.
As we know anxiety comes form projecting forward and then living as though our fears were happening now in the present. Because of this it is important not to wait too long before having the conversation. Putting it off often leads to more rumination and more anxiety. The sooner you do it the sooner it is over. However, the key word is preparation. As they say ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.
What is your desired outcome?
Decide what you want to get from the conversation. Have a clear goal in mind and consider what challenges the other person may have to what you want to say to them.
Where and when will you meet?
Choose your battle ground. Make sure it is somewhere that makes it as easy as possible for you. Where will you meet? When will you meet?
You may need some back up before, during or after the interaction. This is support for you. In a work situation you might need a member of HR or a colleague for support or as a mediator/witness. In other situations you may need another person, as a witness to what is or has taken place.
It also follows that the other person may need support. They may need a family member, a colleague, a union representative or legal representation. If the issue creates high emotion they may need support from someone else such as a bereavement service or other support agency.
What will you say? Having an idea of your script takes the pressure off you. This goes back to the idea of what is your goal, what do you want to achieve. It is ok to take notes, even a clipboard to ensure that you say all that you need to. You may also need to take some notes. Some interactions may require further action after the conversation or you may even need to confirm what has been said and agreed in writing or by email. If you do have someone with you for support they may need to take notes.
Ask a question
When it comes to difficult conversations the way that you use words is very important. If you are confrontational the situation will get worse or hotter. Asking open questions is a good way of getting your point across without creating more confrontation.
“Did you realise that when you (did, said, acted) in that way you made (me, him, her, them) feel ???? Is that what you intended? What were you hoping to get from doing it that way?” Or what was your expected outcome? What were you hoping for?
Also, make sure you understand what they are saying to you – “I am not sure what you mean”, and make sure you are understood – “do you agree/understand/ what I am saying”
Setting the scene
If you are arranging things for a difficult conversation you need to consider how you set out the room. Generally it is better that you don’t sit directly opposite each other, this is the confrontation position. Ideally you would sit in a 10 minute to 2 position– (like on a clock face). You should be on the same level and have the same eye level. To sit higher creates dominance, which in some situation you might choose to take advantage of. Never let the other person sit higher than you. If the other person stands up to dominate you, either stand up yourself, providing that it does not increase the confrontation, tell the person that they need to sit down or bring the meeting to a close.
Getting inside someone’s personal space can feel threatening. Stay one to two arms length apart.
Make sure you are not threatening. Be aware of your hand and face gestures. Listen to the volume of your voice, speak softly and calmly, do not shout. Allow the other person to have their say, don’t interrupt.
Stay on topic
Don’t allow yourself to be side tracked stay with the issues at hand.
If it becomes heated or you feel that you are flagging
Take breaks if needed, get a coffee
Be self aware
Take responsibility for your own feelings do not blame what you feeling on the other person.
Look for a resolution. It may be prudent to give way, allowing the other person to have their point rather than needing to get your own way – you do not need to be right
Take care and look after one another ☺