49 Difficult Conversations: Which Ones Are You Avoiding?….Or Don’t You Want to Talk About It?

Difficult conversations. Life is full of them. More often than not people avoid them. They are uncomfortable. Embarrassing. Wrought with tension. They can be emotional. Are almost always awkward and well, they are just plain difficult.

There are numerous books about difficult conversations at home or with the boss or in relationships. It’s because unfortunately we really can’t move through life without encountering the need for difficult conversations.

crucial conversationsRather than avoid them, however, a more successful response is to simply dive into them. It reminds me of the expression, “the only way out is through.” Postponing and putting off these talks accomplishes nothing. The procrastination only intensifies the dread. The tensions mount and discomfort builds.

Nope. I’m not a believer in walking away. After years of coaching individuals in business and personal situations, not to mention my own share of challenging experiences, I’m certain it’s best to take a breath and lean into the awkwardness. Once begun, the conversations actually become easier than we expect. Half the battle is forging THROUGH the trepidation to just start. Kind of like Nike’s motto, “Just Do It.”

A difficult conversation is the need to address any subject or issue that creates the following:difficult conversations

  • Desire to run the other direction
  • Hope the circumstances will simply go away
  • Feeling of dread and anxiety even thinking of “talking it out”
  • Concern about “the way to say it”
  • Feeling of awkwardness when faced with the situation
  • Fear of saying it all wrong
  • Potential for drama, hurt feelings and emotional reactions

Here is a comprehensive, though not exhaustive, list of 49 topics most experts agree fall into the “difficult conversations” category:

1.       Asking for a raise

2.       Terminating an employee

3.       Resigning without burning bridges

4.       Breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend

5.       Ending a friendship

6.       Reminding a friend they owe you money

7.       Saying no to someone’s request for help, money, etc.

8.       Talking to loved ones about their end-of-life wishes

9.       Turning down an invite or opportunity that’s of no interest

10.   Bidding on a home or piece of real estate

11.   Refusing to compromise on a principle

12.   Expressing dissatisfaction with an employee’s attitude or work

13.   Cancelling a commitment

14.   Letting someone know you aren’t interested in developing a social relationship with them

15.   Expressing anger when someone violates a boundary

16.   Standing up to people who take advantage

17.   Apologizing for a mistake

18.   Delivering a poor performance review

19.   Negotiating a salary package

20.   Asking for a refund

21.   Accepting a gift you don’t like

22.   Expressing disagreement during conflict

23.   Speaking up when no one agrees with you

24.   Admitting an affair or indiscretion to your spouse

25.   Pointing out the flaws of a new plan or program at work

26.   Letting your friend know their new boy/girl friend is a loser

27.   Telling your spouse you overextended the family financially

28.   Confronting emotional or physical abuse

29.   Negotiating prices on services for your home

30.   Telling your parents you are going to break with family traditions

31.   Talking to your kids about sex

32.   Confronting your kids about drug use

33.   Telling your spouse you suspect them of  infidelity

34.   Talking to the police in confrontational situations

35.   Handling employee complaints

36.   Addressing inappropriate dress, language or hygiene in the workplace

37.   Confronting second-hand insults and comments

38.   Telling an employee they spend too much time on personal emails at work

39.   Drawing a line in the sand about behavior you’ll accept in a relationship

40.   Owning your mistakes in a relationship

41.   Making intimate requests of your spouse

42.   Telling your spouse you’re leaving, you want a divorce

43.   Confronting someone of suspected misconduct, theft or lying

44.   Giving honest feedback on work poorly done

45.   Facing your partner after a particularly ugly, out-of-control argument

46.   Apologizing for a deeply hurtful comment

47.   Telling your children you and your spouse are divorcing

48.   Talking with your spouse through the divorce process

49.   Sharing bad information with a client

Actually, the topic itself is less important in making it a tough conversation. What matters most is YOUR feeling about having that conversation.  If the mere thought of it brings up the anxiety and dread mentioned above, then for you it’s a difficult conversation and you might seek out some support to face it and get it behind you.

ostrichTell me, when do you stick your head in the sand instead of speak up? What topics do you avoid even though you know deep down the talk needs having?  I’d like to add your dreaded conversations to this for a future post. What are some of your most difficult conversations?

…..or don’t you want to talk about it?

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Four Un-Romantic Thoughts to Share on Valentine’s Day

valentines beary muchRemember Valentine’s Day as young children?  Everyone in class got a card….everyone!  The goal was to be inclusive, to make everyone feel good. It was less about romance and more about friendship and kindness, about relationships with the people (kids) we spent every day with. Of course we had our favorites, but no one was left out.

The romantic relationship in each of our lives is important, but today, I’d like to focus on all the other ones.  Male or female, young or old, personal or work, family or business, these friendships make a huge difference in our day-to-day experiences. They connect us, ground us, and make us feel like we matter.

What I’m wondering is this……just how expressive, appreciative, and grateful are you in these relationships?   I’m not asking what positive thoughts you have about these people. I want to know if you share those thoughts with them…out loud.

Do you tell your friends what they mean to you? Or do you think “they just know?” Are you uncomfortable expressing your positive thoughts, or just wonder what to say, or if you should say them at all?

To some, this might qualify as a difficult conversation—one where you say the pleasant, nice things you think or feel about these individuals.  In actuality, it’s not difficult at all. It might simply be a conversation you never got accustomed to having. Or maybe you wonder what words to say. It’s simple. Say what’s in your head.

With each passing year, I am more certain that sharing these positive thoughts make all the difference in the quality of our relationships of all types.  Not just the romantic ones. I’m talking about partnerships. Friendships. Family connections. Social groups. Long-distance friends. Electronic friends. Business network connections. Neighbors. Our service providers. Our employees, and co-workers. They ALL matter. Each connection enriches our lives in some way. Some very greatly.

What if you started telling these people the good thoughts that come to mind and the good feelings you have about them?

Let’s talk about some of the things we could (and maybe should) say more often to those around us:

thanks, etc.Express Gratitude – Most of us automatically and frequently say “thank you” during the course of each day.  Take it further, consider saying more. Elaborate. Give. Say, “Thanks that was really kind of you” or “I so appreciate all of your extra efforts for me,” or “Thanks, you are always so helpful.”

Share Compliments – Seems most of us think compliments far more often than we speak them. What is that about? Why not just verbalize those thoughts?”  Every day we should share the complimentary thoughts we currently keep locked up in our minds.

Don’t just think, “Wow, you look great today.” Say it. Tell your UPS guy, “You’re always so friendly. Thanks.” Say the nice thoughts that come to you. There’s no cost, but the payback to such honesty is priceless.  Everyone is uplifted by a compliment–the giver and the receiver. Whether it’s your gardener, your dry cleaning lady, your mailman, your neighbors, or your employees, share your positive thoughts.

Show Your Respect – Many of our daily interactions are with other professionals. Imagine these professionals respect you and your output, but never tell you.  Doesn’t feel right, does it? Why not “go first?”  Open up communication. Express your respect for the great job your doctor’s office does. Tell your employee you find him to be the ultimate on follow-through and detail. Share with your hairdresser how much you love her timeliness. Tell your colleague how their feedback helps you in your job.  Whatever nice thing crosses your mind, don’t hold it hostage. Don’t keep it. Give it away. It will come back to you.

Offer Support – At one time or another, each of us struggles with a personal or professional challenge.  And more often than not, we attempt to minimize that struggle and “suck it up.” In the midst of those difficult times, a few words of encouragement are invaluable. Whether it’s a co-worker, a business colleague, or a friend, reach out with even a few simple words of support. Tell them you understand. Offer your help, if appropriate. Provide an ear to listen, or if it makes sense, share your similar experience so they know they aren’t alone.  A few words of support go a long way in strengthening your connection.

heart candies

Honest, authentic communication is a great habit, a useful tool, and a wonderful way to live your life. Why not spread the love around a little wider this Valentine’s Day (and every day)?  Start sharing all the wonderful, grateful, kind, supportive thoughts you often think of others in your life. It will enrich not only the lives of those around you, but yours as well. It’s hard to say who will benefit more.

If You Don’t Tell Her, Who Will?

breaking the silence

You’ve been observing your best friend. You love her dearly, but—-and it’s a big but—- it appears she is headed towards a disastrous marriage. Or maybe she is dating a seriously controlling bad guy, an abusive guy. What do you do?

Do you say it? Do you tell her? Because if you, as a best friend or very dear friend, can’t tell her, who exactly is going to say it? Who is going to help her see what she can’t?

Clearly she is not seeing the whole picture.

Do you love her enough to say these tough things? Do you love her enough to risk facing her anger, her hurt feelings, and possibly a huge emotional outburst?

We worry friends might not like what we have to say. We’re certain they’ll be angry. We don’t know the way to say it. We fear saying it wrong, but deep down we really fear losing them, losing our friendship.  The social norm, “Mind your own business” comes to mind. Maybe it’s not our place we say to ourselves. Maybe they won’t want to hear it. Besides, maybe they already know it. Someone else will tell them, we hope. We don’t want to face this difficult conversation.

But no one else is going to tell them.  No one will speak up. If we are truly the friend we say we are, we need to be the one. We need to say it because true, deep, loving friends want the best for each other.  To be happy, safe, healthy and ideally to not experience pain…or much pain…in life.

If we are truly concerned for our friend’s well-being, our fears need to take a back seat.  Otherwise, we are actually putting ourselves first, not our friend. Some “bestie” we are!girls crying

Difficult conversations are just that. They include risks. They may trigger unpleasant reactions, but the message to be delivered is important and far outweighs the possible short-term reactions we may experience.  NOT delivering the truth, the message, the concern, the perspective includes far greater risks and far worse outcomes than someone being mad at us.

In my distant past, I had relationships with some real unhealthy guys. One in particular was dishonest, massively controlling, and manipulative; and over time, stole from me. Even so, not one of my friends told me the truth of what they saw, not until I was in pretty deep. Now I get that ultimately I was responsible for being in the relationship, but how might my life have been different if my friends at the time told me their truest deepest opinions and insights when the relationship started rather than after it was ended years later?  Might I have sped up my personal growth process? Might I have been able to see my patterns in relationship sooner? Might I have moved on to healthy relationships faster? What if, they told me what they saw and feared?  Maybe I would simply have been stubborn and continued in the same track. Or possibly, it might have saved precious time. I might have lost less of myself, my credit and even my savings.

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, right?

Well, what if we added to that:

 Friends don’t let friends be disrespected.

Friends don’t let friends tolerate abuse.

Friends tell friends the truth, even when it’s really tough to say.

Here’s the deal. When as friends, we do speak the tough truth, we have to do so with these things in mind:

  • Your friend might choose not to listen. And that’s ok. It’s their choice and they may not yet be ready for the life lesson knocking on their door.  You still did the right thing.
  • They may get defensive. Sometimes the listener is still too mired in their denial, delusion, or pipe dream to see what we see. It’s ok; you still were a good friend.
  • Your friend may shut down entirely.  Your friend hearing your bad news may show no reaction and appear not to have heard you.  It’s ok; they did hear you, no matter how it looks.
  • You might become the bad guy. Upon hearing your perspective, your friend may defend their relationship choice and make you out to be the bad guy. That’s ok. You know the truth. You love them enough to speak up.

It’s important to keep in mind that none of us like hearing news that contradicts our feelings, especially those to do with “love” and relationships. Chances are your friend will react less than ideally to whatever tough-love conversation you have with them…at least initially.

As we deliver the news and observe our friend’s response, we must be neutral.  We need to be free of judgment. We must keep in mind the bigger picture… the long term well-being of our friends. Upon hearing what we have to say, our friend will need time to process. Time to think things over and maybe then ask more questions.

No matter what her reaction is, know this:  your sharing the honest truth planted a seed. Your friend may heed it now, or they may need time to process it, or even to hear it from others. But, you as their true friend have done your part by speaking truth. They and only they get to decide what to do with it.

tough love 2In my mind a really true friend loves me enough and has the guts to tell me the truth, plain and simple. The real good ones even love me enough to continue loving me even if I don’t “get it” right away. They wait. They give me time.

Have you ever had a friend show up for you at this level? A friend who loves you so much they are willing to piss you off, take the risk you will be ripping mad and even possibly shut them out, to protect you and show what you are not seeing for yourself?

I’d love to hear your stories. Then stay tuned for ” the way to say it”  in a tough-love conversation in my next blog post.

 

P.S. Sorry guys for ignoring you on this post, but in my experience guys tell their buddies when a woman is the wrong one for them. If I’m wrong on that count, let me know your experiences.

25 Great Responses to Graciously Receive Gifts

pile of gifts

If you read my blog post earlier this week, 5 Things Never to Say When Receiving a Gift, you may have discovered you are not the best at accepting presents or expressing genuine gratitude. Maybe you struggle with finding the right words, or feel self-conscious. Or just don’t know the way to say it and express what you feel. No worries.

Now that you’re aware of how you come across, you can respond differently and be a gracious receiver.  People will love you for it, and you will enjoy gift exchanges much more yourself. Who knows, you might even find yourself the recipient of more gifts!

To begin, let’s go review those “Five Things Never to Say…” and offer better alternatives:

  1. Instead of “Can I open this later?” how about something more positive and engaging like, “Oh thanks! I’d love to open this now!Now your gift giver knows that you’re excited to be getting a gift and don’t’ want to wait to open it. What a great feeling they get, knowing you are excited! It’s a gift giver’s dream.
  2. Instead of “Do I have to open this now?”  Say “Can I open this now?  I’m just too excited to wait.” Think about it…if they hand you the gift now, it’s because they want you to open it now. Otherwise they would have waited. Generally, people hand you their gift when they want you to open it. Don’t disappoint. Let them enjoy the giving and witness your response.
  3. Instead of saying, “Thanks. I have one of these,” simply be gracious and receive it well saying, Thanks so much! This is a great gift.”
  4. If and only if, the gift is expensive and you have it already, your response will be a little more challenging to be honest. Consider saying something like, “Wow, I love this. I can’t believe how well you know my taste! I do have this item though. Do you think we can decide together on something to exchange it for?”
  5. Time after time I hear people (mostly women) lament, apologize, and fuss over the fact that they didn’t buy a gift as well. PLEASE, if this is you, eliminate this response from your repertoire. Take a breath and slip into the role of gracious receiver. Simply say, “Thank you so much for thinking of me! What a nice surprise!”

….and now twenty more choices to be a pleasant, gracious receiver this Holiday:

6.    “Thank you very much. This is something I’d never have splurged on.”

7.     “How did you know? …..I’ve been wanting a _________________.”

8.     “I love this. It’s so unique.”

9.     “What a great gift! Many thanks.”

10.   “I appreciate your kindness.”

11.   “That was very sweet!” (or kind, or generous or thoughtful)

12.   “What a fantastic gift! Thanks so much!”

13.   “I LOVE presents. Can I open this right now?”

14.   “This is really touching. Thank you.”

15.   “I’ve always wanted to have a _______________.”

16.   “I love handmade gifts. They have such meaning. Thank you.”

17.   “Thank you for thinking of me.”

18.   “Wow! You really know my taste. I love this.”

19.   “This is a perfect gift choice for me.  Thank you!”

20.   “I so appreciate your thoughtfulness.”

21.   “Thanks so very much. This is wonderful!”

22.   “I’m delighted. Thank you.”

23.   “Thank you so much. I will treasure this gift.”

24.   “How kind of you to buy me a gift.”

25.   “What a wonderful surprise! Thanks for thinking about me.”

It’s not too late to be a wonderful receiver of gifts, acts of service, or hospitality this Holiday season. Simply try these responses and allow yourself to be a bit more open.

Regardless of the way you say it this Holiday and whether you find the right words, don’t be a Grinch!  Enjoy and let the gratitude in your heart come through to those who love you enough to purchase a gift they chose especially for you.

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas

THANK YOU for following my blog! That is a great gift to me!

Happiest of Holidays!

 See you after the New Year with more of the way to say it.

5 Things Never to Say When Receiving A Gift

(Check out my next post this week for great responses to receive gifts graciously.)

You don’t have to be a child to LOVE receiving gifts. But, when it comes down to it, kids just naturally get it! They show excitement, excited child at Christmasenthusiasm, and happiness. Their faces light up. They exude emotion as they tear off wrapping and dive into their surprise.  With children, it’s not hard to tell if they’re delighted by a gift.

With adults—not so much. While some adults do resemble children when receiving a gift, the reactions of many adults leave much to be desired.  Here’s an example. I once struggled to find a great baby gift (not my forte) for a friend. When I gave her the present, she thanked me and promptly put it in her car. I never got to see if she liked it, was happy, or what. It simply disappeared.

My all-time favorite one though is this.  My husband and I once found a beautiful black sweater we loved so much, we not only bought one for a family member, but one for him as well. When the relative opened the gift, his wife critically blurted out, “Oh, black. I don’t know if we can get used to black on him!  Really? Of all the things to say, that was their best response?find your gift

Giving a gift requires time and effort. Even the smallest of gifts requires thought, shopping and money. In spite of this, we love to give presents.  And we love it because it makes us feel good.  The old adage, “It is better to give than to receive” hits the nail on the head.  We’re take pleasure in the act. We like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from bringing joy to others. For most of us to really feel that satisfaction, however, we have to know the gift was appreciated. We want to see and feel the receiver’s reaction.

Flat, indifferent responses take the joy out of giving. Don’t be an ingrate with responses like these in your gift-receiving moments:

“No-No” Responses:

  • “Can I open this later?” (meaning after you leave) – This response denies the giver all the joy of giving the gift. They don’t get to see your response and will definitely feel slighted hearing these words.
  • “Do I have to open this now?” – Seriously? Someone went to the trouble to think of, shop for and buy you a gift and you want to know if you HAVE TO open it now? This one is never a good response to generosity. It creates discomfort for everyone and most often the giver will respond politely with “No, you can wait,” but secretly inside they are disappointed.
  • “Oh, thanks, I just bought one (or got one) of these.” – Unless the gift is something you want and need two of, the “I just bought one” is unnecessary info that should be left out.
  • “Oh, my God… but I don’t have a gift for you!!”  This one is a common response among women, one that needs to be ditched. Giving a gift was the choice of the giver. If someone elected to purchase a present for you without specifically asking to exchange gifts, no apology is necessary.  They are doing what they wanted, expressing sentiment. Be a gracious receiver and let them know how surprised and pleased you are. I challenge you to say absolutely nothing about not having a gift for them.  Don’t take away from their generosity by apologizing and shifting the focus. Simply enjoy!
  • “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” – This is definitely an outdated saying. It’s from a time when people spoke more formally, less directly and more politely. How can the gift giver possibly respond but to explain and defend why they wanted to do this for you? Skip this response. 

So exactly what should you say? See our next post this week for great responses for gracious receiving and be sure to share these posts with people who want to be better receivers.

Now, tell me…what are your horror stories? What’s the worst thing ever said to you when you gave a present? I’d love to hear your experiences, too.

How to Shift Gears, Save Time & Avoid Conflicts When You’re in a Bad Mood

warning bad mood in progressI’m a strong proponent of direct, honest, clear communication in just about every situation. That includes days when we are not at the top of our game. Or to be more direct, days we’re in a bad mood.

I recall times as a child trying to decipher body language, facial expressions and energy of adults. Trying to figure out if things were “safe” or if I needed to lay low.  Not knowing for sure what was up meant walking on eggshells till things calmed down.

I still don’t get why it had to be so difficult. Why not just say it?

It’s natural to have bad mood moments or even days. We shouldn’t feel guilty or stuff the feelings pretending they don’t exist. When denied, those feelings only intensify.

Why not just say it? I’m in a bad mood today. I’m having a tough morning. I’m not myself. I’m out of sorts. If we can just say it, the people around us will know to give us love or patience, or to just get the hell out of the way till we return to a better frame of mind.

By being real and honest and owning what’s up for us, we will not only move through it more quickly, we’ll also help those around us understand what we need.  The trick is knowing the way to say it, so we won’t be at a loss for words.

To manage a mood and avoid misunderstandings that result when your team doesn’t know what’s wrong,  use simple direct “I” statements. They tell those around us clearly, that we’re off our game and need a little time.

Your “bad mood” warning could sound like this:

  • “Right now I’m in a bad mood.  I want you to understand it has nothing to do with you.”
  • “I’m sorry to say I’m in a bad mood right now. I don’t want to take it out on you.”
  • “I would appreciate your understanding. Today, I’m not feeling myself. If you can give me some distance this morning, it would be a help.”
  • “I am not feeling patient right now. I need some quiet time. Think you could give me some space till I can move through this?”
  • “Katy today is going to be a busy day at the office so I wanted to give you a head’s up. I had a horrible start to my morning and need some time to turn that around. I’ll check in with you in about an hour.”
  • “Mike, I’ve got some personal things on my mind right now and they’re affecting my mood. Just wanted to let you know, if I seem short, it has nothing to do with you.”
  •  “I need you to know I’m really angry right now, but not with you. If you can just leave me alone for a bit while I figure things out, I’d appreciate that.”

 Just say it! It will give you the space you need to shift gears without wasting the energy of those around you.

In the workplace, productivity won’t suffer with your employees tiptoeing around you not knowing what’s wrong or if it’s them you are angry at. And at home, everyone will relax when they learn you’re in a bad mood, but it has nothing to do with them.   warning proceed with caution

Pick your favorite line above. Or make up your own and give others warning when you’re not at your best. Everyone benefits.

Danger: Difficult Conversations and Email Don’t Mix

Send Button for EmailsI LOVE email. I am a fast typist (thanks to long ago secretarial school.) I love to write. And I like immediacy. Email ticks all the boxes.

BUT,  EMAIL IS NOT RIGHT FOR EVERY COMMUNICATION.

Many people hide behind email, rather than bravely having conversations they need to have. They become The Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain. Only difference is their curtain is email.

If the communication you need to deliver, makes you feel like running the other direction, email is not the way to handle it.

If the topic you need to talk about is emotionally charged, like a break up, or a performance issue at work, email is not the right choice.

If the subject matter is touchy, involves parties who are already upset and taking sides, email is not going to clear the air.

If you know (and I know you do) when your email is likely to cause hurt feelings, disappointment, possible misunderstandings and yes, drama, email is not the solution to minimize all of the above.

When we chicken out and use email to handle situations like this, we can’t really wonder why things go sideways. Why drama escalates. Why nothing is resolved. It’s obvious.

Too much is missing and/or open to interpretation with email in a tough conversation. And it’s what’s missing that creates the problems. Like tone of voice. Like the ability to stop and redirect the conversation. Or the ability to clarify issues that are being misinterpreted….immediately! Once the reaction is there, once the feelings are hurt, it’s much harder to backtrack and resolve.

With email the entire conversation is delivered like a one-sided monologue. The reader has no opportunity to ask for clarification, to interpret facial expressions and tone, to stop a communication that is headed down the wrong path.

When you speak, whether face to face or by phone, at each moment you have the chance to shift gears, explain, listen, redirect, and ask questions and often, salvage a conversation that was beginning to go south.

ALL of that is missing when you put your thoughts in an email. You quickly bang out the email, throw out your thoughts, often with little or no editing. Then before you can foresee possible issues, or just think ahead a moment, it’s’ too late. The email is gone.

How many times have we all wished there was a “recall” button on personal emails?

Instead of going down this path, a better solution is learning and committing to NOT using email for any conversation that is touchy, drama-filled, sensitive, emotional, potentially upsetting or hurtful, easily open to interpretation, or complicated.

What recent email of yours turned into an issue that could have been avoided?  Suppose instead of emailing, you had picked up the old-fashioned telephone instead? Imagine the different possible outcomes with an authentic conversation?

Remember, email is great but it’s not right for every situation. Tune into your intuition. If you have the slightest inkling it could get sticky, DON’T send your email. Have a conversation instead. THAT’S the way to say it!

For some specifics on when and when not to email, check out this article.