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Getting Yourself to Have a Difficult Conversation

13 November 2018

Barbara read How to Have Difficult Conversations When You Don’t Like Conflict by Joel Garfinkle in the Harvard Business Review.

Tags: barbara read, communication, conflict, thoughtful candor

Garfinkle’s first instruction is to “stop worrying about being liked.” This is a huge block for me. I want people to like me. Sometimes I even want people I don’t like to like me. I am not proud of this. I wish it weren’t true, but just reading his statement over and over helps me endure the discomfort. I said something in a meeting last night that I wish I hadn’t, but I’m making myself get over it and not worry about who disapproved.

In this article, he also warns that you shouldn't take too long to prepare and thus put off the conversation. Go ahead and get it over with. We tend to rehearse what we are going to say in our heads over and over at the speed of a hamster on a wheel. I can get myself to stop this if I write down what I want to say. 

“Don’t put it off. How often is your response to conflict something like, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ or ‘It’s not that big a deal’ or It’s not worth arguing about’? If you’re always promising yourself that you’ll ‘bring it up next time it happens,’ well, now’s the time.”

You might need to give each of you a little time to cool off, but don’t keep delaying just because you dread it. A way to help yourself get started is to plan to say first—I need us to have a difficult conversation and then begin.

Be direct and get right to the point—I’d like to change what I said about out Christmas plans.

Listen more than you talk. When I had a recent difficult conversation, a lot of negative comments interspersed with some positive ones came my way. I did deep breathing and did not absorb the negative statements.

After they have talked for a while, summarize what they’ve said—You think my new plan will hurt my granddaughter the most. Well, that matters a lot to me.

If you think they are not getting your point, ask them in a very respectful way to repeat what you’ve said—To be sure I’m being clear, will you tell me what you understand me to be saying.

“Expect a positive outcome.” Go in with the attitude that if we have this conversation, we will have a better relationship afterwards. You can’t be sure that will happen, but it is much better to focus on that outcome than think of all the negative things we usually let roll through our heads. Here are some of mine—They won’t like me anymore, I’ll lose my job. My spouse will leave—I did that one for the first few years in my second marriage, but I got over it. We had some important difficult conversations, and he didn't leave.

Here are some possible positive thoughts I'll be trying to use—We’ll understand each other’s point of view better and be able to give and get more of what we both want. We will respect each other more. I will feel brave for having done it. The problem will be solved.

I’d love to hear in the comments if any of these suggestions help you go ahead and have that difficult conversation.


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