There are lots of time in life where you are going to find yourself in a difficult conversation. Whether it is a misalignment of ideals, competing interests or agendas, or just flat out stuff you don’t want to hear for one reason or another, these situations are never easy. But they are necessary, as short term comfort leads to long term dysfunction.
If you have a conversation that you are dreading having coming up soon, such as a break up of a relationship, giving two weeks notice at your job, or a difficult topic or situation to discuss, here are some tips to assist in the process:
1. Remember WHY – keeping in mind the reason you are in need of this conversation has to be top of mind throughout the process. If you are ending a relationship, the reasons behind that are hopefully because you want or need something different from what you are getting. If you are quitting a job, it is kind of the same thing, you are leaving this “relationship” to go join another that will have better long term impact on your life. You are leaving to grow and change, and you are aware that staying put in your circumstances is going to make any growth possible. There are a myriad of topics that the thought of causes your heart to race, let alone actually having the discussion. Remember your why…
2. Map out a plan – By writing things down ahead of time, you can work through some of your anticipated reactions, rough spots, and also make sure you cover all of the points that you want to share. You don’t want to do into a high stress situation without at least an outline of how you want things to go, and a list of the points you want to be sure you cover. There might be key pieces of information that are prompting your actions that you need to share, so be sure to give yourself a road map in advance to help you navigate.
3. Visualize and Rehearse – Do a couple of practice runs ahead of time. If you struggle with keeping your cool, or not clamming up when it comes time to talk, you need to practice ahead of time to make sure you polish your presentation of what you are trying to share. Practice makes better…lots of practice will eventually make perfect. You don’t necessarily need to approach a tough conversation with your spouse or your boss with a PowerPoint and canned speech, but you should practice saying the words, hearing yourself say the things you need to, etc. You want to know ahead of time where the spots are that may trip you up, and how you are going to react when those times arise. Are you going to get mad, upset, flustered? Practicing ahead of time will help alleviate the unknown aspect of the conversation, and hopefully let you navigate these waters a little more smoothly.
4. Be an adult – Part of maturity in life is to be able to handle difficult situations more effectively over time. No one starts out with the skills to navigate difficult conversations, but rather we develop them along the way. Facing these situations head on is the only way to get better; don’t avoid tough conversations hoping things will resolve themselves. Take charge, and do what needs to be done. Take the high road whenever possible; there are arguments you are not going to win, even if you are right. But at least you can walk away knowing you handled yourself effectively, and that is a win in itself.
5. Breathe – It sounds easy, as we usually do this without ever giving it a thought. However, when things get tough physically or emotionally, your breathing is one of the first things that gets off kilter. As soon as your stress levels go up, your body is preparing for fight or flight. It is how our brains are wired from millennia ago, self preservation was all that mattered to us at that point. Don’t get eaten, that was the goal. This primitive software is still running the system, and the only way to counteract this automatic response is to control your breathing. Inhale through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and exhale through your mouth in a controlled fashion. Do this for any stressful situation to help you keep your cool and not let your emotions get the better of you.
6. Listen –> Think –> Ask – The reason I wrote this article today is because it was top of mind for me after last night. I had a long conversation with someone I am very close to, and this person is really struggling with a personal issue. To say it is bad, and that things are difficult to discuss, would be a gross understatement. It is an area that I know nothing about, and I feel helpless to assist because of that. I knew it would be an emotional conversation, and I definitely shed some tears during those couple of hours. I knew that going in, and I did my best to slow my pace of questions, pause when I needed to, and listen–> think –> then ask, instead of react.
Hopefully some of the tips above will help you the next time you are faced with a situation or discussion you know will be difficult. Any or all of these are going to make things a little easier for you to get through the situation effectively. Do a postmortem on a difficult conversation you had recently and see which points above might be the most applicable for the next situation like that.
As the old saying goes:
Don’t wrestle with pigs; it makes
the pig happy and you filthy.
Keep that in mind the next time you enter into an exchange with someone. I wish you luck in your endeavors.