Make That “Difficult” Conversation A Little Easier - October 5, 2015
When I have to have a difficult conversation with a teammate or direct report, it is stressful. I can justify why I need to have the conversation, but my discomfort shows, which makes the conversation less effective. In this issue, Promotional Consultant Today shares these six common mistakes and how to remedy them from Harvard Business Review blogger Sarah Green Carmichael.
Mistake No. 1: We fall into a combat mentality.
When difficult conversations turn toxic, it's often because we've made a key mistake: we've fallen into a combat mentality. This allows the conversation to become that of a winner and a loser. But the reality is, when we let conversations go in this direction, everyone loses. The real enemy is not your conversational counterpart, but the combative tone of the conversation.
Mistake No. 2: We try to oversimplify the problem.
If the subject of your argument is straightforward, chances are you won't be arguing about it. Because it's daunting to try and tackle several issues at once, we may try to roll these problems up into a less-complex problem. But the existence of such a beast is often an illusion. To avoid oversimplifying, remind yourself that if the issue weren't complicated, it probably wouldn't be so hard to talk about.
Mistake No. 3: We don't bring enough respect to the conversation.
To avoid the combat mentality, you need to go further—you need to respect the person you're talking to, and you need to respect yourself. Making sure you respond in a way you can later be proud of will prevent you from being thrown off course if your counterpart is openly hostile.
Mistake No. 4: We lash out—or shut down.
Fear, anger, embarrassment, defensiveness—any number of unpleasant feelings can course through us during a conversation we'd rather not have. Some of us react by confronting our counterpart more aggressively; others, by rushing to smooth things over. We might even see-saw between both counterproductive poles. Instead, move to the middle and state what you really want. The tough emotions won't evaporate but with practice, you will learn to focus on the outcome you want in spite of them.
Mistake No. 5: We react to thwarting ploys.
Lying, threatening, stonewalling, crying, sarcasm, shouting, silence, accusing and taking offense—tough talks can present an arsenal of thwarting ploys. But you also have an array of potential responses ranging from passive to aggressive. Again, the most effective is to move to the middle: disarm the ploy by addressing it. For instance, if your counterpart has stopped responding to you, you can simply say, "I don't know how to interpret your silence."
Mistake No. 6: We get "hooked."
Everyone has a weak spot. And when someone finds yours—whether inadvertently, with a stray arrow, or intentionally to hurt you—it becomes even harder to stay out of the combat mentality. Maybe your weak spot is tied to your job—you feel like your department doesn't get the respect it deserves. Or maybe it's more personal. But whatever it is, take the time to learn what hooks you. Just knowing where you're vulnerable will help you stay in control when someone pokes you there.
If a problem erupts, stick to these basics: keep your content clear, keep your tone neutral and keep your phrasing temperate. By staying in control during the conversation, you can control the outcome.
Source: Sarah Green Carmichael is a senior associate editor at Harvard Business Review. She based this content on Failure to Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong and What You Can Do to Right Them by Holly Weeks.