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Steps to Have That Hard Conversation


“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” ~ Epicurus

One of the most common issues my clients want to talk about in our sessions is how to deal with another person. Most problems (even if they are technical) boil down to a relationship, a conversation, a person.

Try as we might we cannot avoid dealing with human beings and human beings are beautifully messy. We each have our own perspective, values, style and priorities and these collide with the others around us and sometimes they mesh well… and sometimes they don’t.

When there is conflict with someone who is not a part of our life it’s easy to deal with…avoid that person. However, when the person is a central figure in our life (e.g. a co-worker, family member, etc.) it is not so easily avoided.

Discussion BusinessAt these times you may be asking yourself a series of questions: why am I so put-upon? What is wrong with them? Maybe I can just get by and not say a word?

Chances are the longer you put off addressing the issue the more pain, disappointment and frustration you experience in the situation. As much as we wish otherwise, most conflicts don’t just “sort themselves out.”

We will find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of needing to say something and that unleashes a whole new set of stressful questions: what do I say so they don’t freak out? What if I make things worse?

If you consider yourself the type of person who hates confrontation just reading this far has probably already caused your blood pressure to go up. Rest easy, I’m not going to challenge you to take on anything you’re not ready for. Instead, let’s work on reducing the stress around having the conversation in the first place.

I have steps I take myself through when I’m feeling the tension building around having a conversation with another person. From experience I’ve learned that the longer I put off having an important conversation the more mental stress I experience around it.

In the next series of blogs I’m going to take you through my process of preparing for these “hard” conversations and why each step is important. My goal is that at the end of this series you will be experiencing a lot less stress and feel capable to take on any outstanding conversations in your life.

Without further ado…

Step 1: Recognize The Other Person Is Your Partner, Not Your Adversary

If you go into the conversation thinking of the other person as the one you are going “up against” you will unconsciously treat them as if they are trying to take something important away from you. Try as you might, they will pick up on the signals you are sending that they are the problem, rather than a resource to a solution.

Consider how you are aligned with this person. What is the common goal that you share with this person? What values do you share? What is important to both of you? Find the common ground and focus on that.

Additionally, to help you prepare for the conversation ahead, make a list of that person’s strengths and talents. When we are in conflict with another person (real or in in our heads) we tend to become keenly aware of their shortcomings. This is a mental defensiveness that helps us to feel justified in our position. To get back on equal ground we want to consciously redeem that person in our eyes.

Mentally creating partnership with the other person will help you to prepare for the conversation ahead and will shape the attitude YOU bring during the conversation.

You’ll get more accomplished in a conversation with a partner than you will with an adversary.

What other suggestions or thoughts would you add to this first step?