How to Have Difficult Conversations With More Confidence and Ease

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How do you handle difficult conversations? Are you adept at managing that difficult client? Can you converse with your boss on challenging issues with aplomb? Do you effectively manage any toxic people in your life? No one is immune to the need to have crucial conversations at different times. The key to success is being willing to have the conversations you most need to and managing yourself (emotions, energy and impact) in the process.

Unless you've been living a sheltered existence, you've likely had one of those run-ins. Those pit of your stomach, "Oh gosh, I don't want to have to have this conversation" experiences. It may have been with a difficult boss. Maybe it was a client situation that didn't work out the way you had hoped. Perhaps it was a toxic relationship in your personal life or with a co-worker. Regardless of the setting, these crucial conversations are not the easiest ones to have, yet they are sometimes the most important ones you can have. Important because not only do they set the tone and resolution of the relationship, but also because they require that you step into your own confidence and power to speak your truth of the matter.

Tips about having these conversations effectively abound. At the end of the day, you need to be clear about what you want to express and what outcome you seek, as well as which gray areas you are willing to negotiate. Whenever dramatic or toxic behavior is involved, while you may have something to learn from the situation, someone's reaction is rarely about you. Maria Niles echos this sentiment in "What Are Toxic People in Your Life and How Do You Handle Them?":

Recognize that they might have a back story that you aren't aware of (like dealing with their own set of inescapable toxic forces) that is leading to their behavior. It isn't about you, so don't let them fool you into thinking it is. Also, you can gently try to turn conversations to neutral subjects or offer a positive counterpoint. Plus, be on the lookout for your own contributions to the negative buzz. Try not to egg the other person on or give them permission to use you as their own personal waste dump.

Yes, you need to manage relationships, but no, you do not ever (repeat -- ever) have to be a dumping ground for someone else's "stuff." When you need to deliver bad news or discuss a sensitive subject, rest assured that you are not alone in your dread. When these forces are present in your day, they fill you with anxiety, zap your energy and distract you from just about everything else. This is why you want to handle them as swiftly, effectively and compassionately as you can. You can't sweep it under the rug because 1) it just doesn't work -- it'll eventually crawl out and 2) it'll drag you down. Here is one of the "7 Tips for Difficult Conversations" from the blogs at Harvard Business Review.

Get out of the "blame frame." Each person involved in the situation has a different objective story about what happened. Your goal is not to judge who's right and wrong, it's to manage to better outcomes in the future.

Another one of their tips is to put the whole situation in perspective by pretending it is some time in the future.  This tip is always beneficial, not only for handling difficult situations but also for ensuring that the decisions you make serve you. Much of what seems overwhelmingly challenging in the moment means little in the long run.  Always keep things in perspective. This excellent checklist for difficult conversations covers a lot of ground. The author focuses a lot on the self-management piece of the puzzle, which is the most important aspect from my experience. For instance, she asks:

3. What “buttons” of yours are being pushed? Are you more emotional than the situation warrants? Take a look at your “backstory,” as they say in the movies. What personal history is being triggered? You may still have the conversation, but you’ll go into it knowing that some of the heightened emotional state has to do with you.

4. How is your attitude toward the conversation influencing your perception of it? If you think this is going to be horribly difficult, it probably will be. If you truly believe that whatever happens, some good will come of it, that will likely be the case. Try to adjust your attitude for maximum effectiveness.

Remember that we don't see the world and other people as it is, we see it as we are. Meaning, the best way to succeed at difficult conversations is to come from an emotionally uncharged and "clean" place within yourself.   If you're all charged up in a blame-game or making the situation mean a whole lot more than it does (like thinking "I'm incompetent" or a myriad of ways you can take it personally), you're bound to amplify your difficulties rather than move through them to the best resolution for all involved. Remember to:

  • Focus on the facts.
  • Manage your emotions and reactions before, during and after the conversation.
  • Be clear on the desired outcome..
  • Negotiate and adapt where appropriate
  • Treat everyone involved with respect and compassion (that includes YOU).
  • Let it go -- take action and release your attachment.
  • Apply any lessons you learned from the experience.

No one can avoid ever having to have a difficult conversation. In fact, if you are in a leadership role (and yes, self-employment is a leadership role), you're likely to have more than your fair share simply because of the nature of the beast.  That said, you can step up to the plate and handle them with more confidence and ease than you ever thought you could. What have been your experiences with difficult conversations? What worked well? What didn't work so well (or has a heck of a story associated with it)? Would love to hear from you in the comments ...

Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, offers life and career coaching for women to help you boost your confidence and break through your limitations so you can re-ignite freedom and a sense of adventure in your life. Get the free eCourse "5 Steps to Move from Fear to Freedom & Experience Greater Confidence" at her website.


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