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Put on Your Big Boy Pants: Have that Tough Conversation NOW

road block

Road blocks to difficult conversations exist only in your head!

What’s stopping YOU from having the difficult conversation lurking in your head?  

Is it……?

Procrastination……Fear of rejection……Fear of anger……Embarrassment……Not knowing the way to say it……Fear of reprisal……Shoot the messenger fears……Your own discomfort…..You’re afraid you’ll be emotional……Your fear of their reaction–uh oh!……Not wanting to face the truth……You’re STILL waiting for the right moment……Your refuse to own your own your stuff..….Fear you might lose control……They should come to YOU…..Certainty that YOU’RE right……You are much too hurt……You don’t believe in talking about such things……You can’t admit you were wrong……You’re waiting for THEM to go first……You just don’t know where to begin……You tried already……You think, “Oh, it will all just blow over”……You don’t believe it will make a difference?

ostrich

Is this you?

Whatever the reason is (or reasons) for your delay, the end result is the same. Nothing and I mean NOTHING improves when you avoid an uncomfortable, difficult conversation regardless of all the excuses you make in your head.

According to J.D. Schramm in Harvard Business Review, “Often our fear of having the conversation with somebody about a sensitive subject can be worse than having the conversation itself. We put off bringing up a tough subject because we are waiting for the “perfect opportunity.”

But the uncomfortable truth, the truth we all know, is this:  there is no perfect opportunity. If we wait, the conversation will never happen.

We have to just put on our big boy pants and do it. WE need to make the first move regardless of who spoke last, or who we think is wrong, or exactly what happened, or who we think SHOULD reach out first. We need to take a breath and begin.

go sign

Follow these tips to help you get started on that difficult conversation you’re avoiding:

  1. Write out your thoughts – If time allows, write. Write how you think you’d say it, without the anger and without the judgment. Consider it brainstorming. You’ll find both things not- to-say, and things very well said. Use your writing as a guide.
  2. Make a commitment.  If you’ve been procrastinating, set a time frame. Say to yourself (or even better, to someone who will hold you accountable) I’ll have this conversation by tomorrow, two days from now, a week from now. Just set a date that is close enough to break through your procrastination.
  3. Come up with a few good openers. Make sure you have one or two good opening lines to start off the conversation. Rule of thumb is:  be real, express yourself honestly (even if you have to say you are somewhat nervous), and be direct. Get right to what you want to talk about. No beating around the bush.
  4. Keep it private. If the topic is stressful enough to qualify as a tough conversation to you, regardless of what anyone else thinks, then privacy is a must. Never begin one of these talks in earshot of others, unless they, too, are part of the conversation.
  5. Tolerate imperfection. These talks are challenging. That means they often won’t be perfect. With that in mind, congratulate yourself for facing the issue instead of judging yourself for not saying it perfectly.  Even an average job of a difficult conversation IS an accomplishment.

None of us can avoid difficult conversations in life. They are a part of life. Unless you are a hermit, you might as well begin to develop this skill now.

Instead of avoiding the conversation, you’ll avoid the drama that unexpressed issues create. Problems, misunderstanding and disagreements not brought to light, create relationship issues and ongoing stress. As Kevin O’Leary (also known as “Mr. Wonderful” from The Shark Tank), would say, “Stop the madness.” Have the conversation and the sooner you do, the easier it will be.

Right Words to Start Tough Conversations

Getting started is not as hard as you think. Try these phrases.

Getting started is not as hard as you think. Try these phrases.

The most difficult thing about difficult conversations is the first step. Opening your mouth to get the right words out. Starting off on the right foot. Being the one to broach whatever subject it is that’s uncomfortable.

But have you ever noticed —-once you start, things immediately get easier? Tension breaks.

With the first step behind us, the dread dissipates.  Just like public speaking, or a first time surfing, or trying some new challenge, the majority of anxiety arises in THINKING about it, not in the actual doing of it! Once we make that first move, utter those first words, something shifts. Suddenly things start to settle.

We can use that fact and some well worded introductions to help us get over the hump of our first step in a challenging conversation.  First, check out last week’s blog post, Six Steps to Initiating Difficult Conversations.

For conversation starters, try wording like this:

 “I’m angry about what happened yesterday.  I want to share my feelings and hear your perspective so we can clear the air.”

 “I think I made a mess of things in our recent meeting and I’m sorry.  I’d like to talk about it with you and see if we can’t regroup and get back on track.”

 “I’m very uncomfortable with some comments you made about the department. I’m hoping you can help me see things in a different light. Let’s talk this through.”

 “Let me tell you how things appeared to me when you said you weren’t interested in working with the new employee. Then I’d like to hear what your thoughts and reservations are.”

 “It’s important to me that we retain our good working relationship, so I want to share my concerns about our work project. I’m not happy with the way you have communicated with me on this, and I think we can do better. Let me tell you my issues and then let’s talk about what is making it difficult from your end.”

 “For me, it’s unacceptable to repeatedly not get a response from your office when I leave a phone message. I value our business relationship and I want a better level of service so we can continue working together.”  

 

To Learn Their Point of View, Ask Curious Questions

After delivering your succinct, clear, direct message, turn the tables. Keep the conversation going and on track.  Ask curious questions to give your listener the opportunity to share their thinking, feelings and assumptions. The goal is to understand both sides of the issue, not just yours.

Some phrases that will help you accomplish this sound like this:

“Can you explain your thought process so I understand where you are coming from?

 “Can you help me understand how you see things here?

 “Can you tell me what you were trying to accomplish so I understand your thinking?”

 Once you’ve asked the question, LISTEN. Yup, stop talking. Don’t defend. Simply listen.  It’s critical to give that respect and listen if your true intent is understanding and resolution. When they are done, there is time to clarify any issues that arise.

If You Mess Up

Difficult conversations are like life. Rarely are things perfect. Stepping into challenging conversations is honest, brave and forthright, AND sometimes messy. If you bumble something you say in one of these talks, do what you would do when writing. Edit!

Say something like,

 “What I just said isn’t quite right. Let me try that again. I want to get closer to what I’m trying to convey.”

 Wow, that was unclear. Let me try to reword that to make it more clear.”

 “Let me backtrack for a moment. What I mean is this…..”

And then try again. Simply start over with what you wanted to say, making an attempt to be more succinct and more clear. There is no rule in communications that says you can’t edit and reword what you say when it comes out less than perfectly.  In fact, the simple act of doing that often opens up communication. By being less than perfect, by being real, others often relax and we reach a better connection.

 

Make The Words Yours

Keep in mind whatever words you choose to say, you need to own.  In the beginning these direct conversations may feel awkward. You may feel unsure of how to word things. Over time it will get easier as your confidence grows and the discomfort becomes less disconcerting.  Till then, try to use these phrases above to get started. You may edit them a touch to make them yours, but refrain from going back to your old ways or you will get your old results.

As you try out these phrases, let me know how they worked for you.  If you come up with other great opening lines, I hope you’ll share them. I’d love to hear your experiences.

Six Steps to Initiating Difficult Conversations

Starting the conversation is the hard part.

Starting the conversation is the hard part.

There’s something about difficult conversations that keeps us stuck. We know we need to speak up, but instead we shut down. Rather than take action and get the conversation behind us, we obsess over it.

How should we say it? Will they get mad? How will they respond? Will they turn it around on us? What if they cry?  Suppose we lose control? What if, what if, what if. On and on we go. While we sit obsessing on what needs to be said, time passes. Tension builds. Resentment grows. The gap between us widens. Broaching the subject only gets harder as we procrastinate.

Nike built a zillion dollar brand on the slogan, Just Do It! Why not use that brilliance to inspire us? Waiting doesn’t make it easier. If you want easy, it is by far easier to jump in and handle the conversation than to wait.

Here are six steps to help you Just Do It with your difficult conversation:

  1. Know the goal  – What outcome do you want? In your mind, name that outcome…briefly and simply. Is it compromise? Understanding? Clearing the air? (If it isn’t a positive outcome…say for example, you want to punish them, or anger them, or get payback, then take no action. The Way to Say It is about coming from a positive place.)
  2. Be your “best” self  –  What’s that? It’s honest, direct, clear and calm, or at least even-tempered.  It also means having patience with others as well as owning your stuff.
  3. Don’t make issues bigger than they are  –  No extra drama. Nothing that is not relevant or necessary to reach understanding. Keep your wording brief and relevant. Less is best.
  4. Listen more than you speak  –  Know you only see one perspective, i.e., yours. By listening to what they have to say and sharing honestly yourself, you’ll learn their point of view and that is critical to resolution.
  5. Give up being right  –  Even if you are right, the goal is understanding. Understanding their point of view and feeling understood yourself.
  6. Accept how it turns out  –  Know that handling difficult conversations with grace takes practice. Accept that at first they may be messy, imperfect, but your efforts to step into these conversations are to be applauded. The conversation may be bumpy. Accept that. Focus on the outcome and congratulate yourself on your efforts.

As with most things in life, taking even the smallest step makes it all easier. Keep this in mind: the conversation itself is not the hardest part. It’s starting the conversation that turns us to stone.  It takes guts to be real, honest and direct.  The great news is more often than not, within minutes of initiating these conversations tension melts and relief floods in.

Next week,  I’ll share actual phrases,opening lines and words to say in these challenging conversations.