Who loves tough conversations? You know, the ones where you tell someone that his behavior is unacceptable and you want it to change. The ones that you’ve put off having forever because you’re afraid you’ll lose it, either screaming or crying (a big fear for women) or both.
Show of hands. Uh-huh. Just as I thought.
How to handle tough conversations
Here’s the good news: You can learn how to have these conversations and get so good at them that they become second nature. Underlying the tactics that I’ll get into in just a bit are these two important factors.
Reframe it in your head
Difficult conversations don’t have to be ugly or painful or anything else – but they all start with a change in your perception: Tell yourself that this is not a confrontation but simply a conversation. Your goal is not to beat up anyone but communicate what’s going on with you, then listening to what the other person has to say, back and forth, until you come to a resolution you can both live with.
Don’t put it off
Whether your conversation is with a friend, loved one, work colleague, subordinate, vendor, client or anyone else, delaying this kind of conversation never ends well. The situation never goes away – even if the person dies, quits her job or otherwise moves out of your life. You’ll always be pulling an overloaded barge of negative feelings – anger, resentment, shame, anxiety, disgust, misery and anything else you care to throw into the emotional pot – because you didn’t handle the situation when you had the chance.
If this person is in your life for the foreseeable future, whatever is bugging you will get bigger and uglier and will color your interactions and relationship with this individual. Every itty-bitty irritant is going to take on gigantic proportions and all those negative emotions you wanted to avoid by having the conversation are just going to grow and fester.
It’s so much easier to handle an issue when it’s no big thing than it is to let it grow until you explode like Mount Vesuvius. And you know what happened to Pompeii.
Take the initiative to make the situation better. You’ll feel better about yourself.
How to handle difficult people and situations
Are you ready to do this? What follows are some tips that will help.
- Focus on the issue. Don’t get sucked in to name-calling, blaming or emotional behaviors. Remember, your reaction is yours, not something that someone forced you to do or feel.
- Use “I” statements. Say “When you said/did this, I felt ____” rather than “You’re such an idiot! You make me so angry I want to spit!” The first statement is not judgmental or blaming. It simply lays out the fact of the situation and how you felt. The second statement will get you into that verbal fistfight you’ve been trying to avoid.
Special bonus tip: If you use the words “like” or “that” to describe how you feel, you’re not expressing an emotion. “I feel like you don’t respect me” is not a description of your own emotions; it’s a judgment and one that’s likely to get mess all over you. Say instead, “I felt disrespected when you said ____.”
- Preserve the other person’s dignity and learn something at the same time. Just because someone has done or said something stupid does not make them stupid. Try something like this: “You told me you would do the dishes after dinner and you haven’t done them yet. When will you get them finished?” Or “Last week you said the report would be completed today. It’s now the end of the day and I still don’t have it. What happened?” Going on the offensive closes the door to open and honest communication.
- Don’t burn your bridges. Presumably, you have some type of relationship with these difficult people that you want to – or must – maintain. Otherwise, their words or actions wouldn’t be an issue; you could ignore them and get on down the road. So be sure to act and speak in a way that allows you to maintain a constructive relationship with them.
- Talk, then listen. So many people don’t really listen. They’re just waiting for you to shut up so they can say what’s on their mind. Don’t be that individual. Hear what the other person has to say, not what you think they’re saying, and respond to that.
- Show them how it’s done. If you want people to be kind, you need to be kind. If you want people to work hard, you need to work hard. If you want people to keep their word, you need to do the same. If you want people to be responsive, you need to respond as well. If you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them. Model the behavior you want to see and you’ll always have the high ground.
- Practice. If you’re having a problem with one particular person, find someone with whom you can practice the conversation. This gives you a safe space for “do-overs” and the confidence to incorporate these principles into your everyday life. Tell your do-over partner – spouse, coach or friend – what to listen for (especially blaming phrases and not owning up to your own feelings) and amend your conversation until you’re ready for the real deal.
These tips are simple and can carry you a long way in all your business or personal relationships. That doesn’t make them easy, but they are well worth the effort.
How about you? What techniques have worked well with you in dealing with difficult people or difficult situations? Please share below.