10 Tips to Help You Better Navigate a Tough Conversation

Apr 29, 2014

I wish had the proverbial nickel for every participant in one of my sessions who has approached me after the program with a comment that began, “Have you got a minute for a question? My boss and I just don’t get along. We need to have a conversation, but he/she…

From there, the story and details diverge.

But here’s the commonality: The conflict has been ongoing, stress has clearly altered productivity and results, and both parties have crashed against a communication barrier that seems insurmountable.

10 tips for that tough talk

If you find yourself in that same predicament, consider these tips for a straightforward conversation that helps you break through that wall of hard feelings and misunderstandings.

  1. Realize that two sides can be right. Conflict is not a competitive sport. The other person does not have to lose for you to win.
  2. Communicate what happened, what you have concluded about what happened, and how you feel about what happened. Then listen for the same information from the other person. You will uncover hidden invalid assumptions, wrong interpretations, and inaccurate information.
  3. Make a conscious choice about whether you will accommodate, compromise, overpower, or collaborate to come to resolution. Backing people into a corner rarely serves good purpose. But you yourself may decide to accommodate the other person’s wishes to “bank a favor” when something is not all that important to you. Remembering that you have a choice in the matter helps.
  4. Define areas or issues that you agree on and move forward from there. Refocus on your goal rather than the obstacle.
  5. Work to create alternatives. When locked in a stalemate, try brainstorming to generate new ideas to meet your goals.
  6. State the real reasons for your feelings or objections — not just logical ones. Otherwise, the other person may remove the obstacle you’ve mentioned, and the problem will remain unsolved.
  7. Prefer statements to questions during conflict. Instead of “Why didn’t you tell me about car?” State, “I wish you had told me about car.” A question typically generates an argument. A statement typically elicits a response—either agreement or disagreement.
  8. Discuss a problem sitting down. You’ll be less likely to use intimidating body language or make a dramatic exit from the conversation in a huff.
  9. Describe; don’t label. People can respond to statements like, “Your reports are missing key information.” They can confirm or deny that “fact.” Descriptions of what you see or what happened most often generate explanations. On the other hand, people can’t respond to a statement like, “You’re evasive.” Labels and value judgments generate arguments
  10. Avoid “hot words.” Just like radioactive material, they trigger an explosion: anger, defensiveness, denial, or blame.

Granted, you and your boss (or that employee you had a tough conversation with) may never become BFFs. But tactful, yet direct conversation goes a long way toward understanding. And a stress-free life.

This was originally published on Dianna Booher’s Booher Banter blog.

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