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.