9 Tips for having difficult conversations

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My wife and I have been married 30 years (!) this June. I’ve often said that we agreed to never discuss divorce, but have often contemplated murder.

My parents bickered, but never quarreled openly, so learning how to solve relationship problems was never modeled to me. When Jenn and I had our first fight while dating, I assumed everything was over and we were breaking up.

But she explained to me that disagreements do happen in adult relationships 🙂 and you just face them and get through it.

Since then, we’ve had a few hundred of these discussions. Turns out that the same rules that work at home are also effective at your workplace. People are people.

Leaders build bridges and take initiative. So learning how to engage in difficult discussions is one of the most important leadership skills you can develop.

So, here are some quick tips that I’ve learned that might help you solve these situations quicker and with less pain:

  1. Think of this intervention, not as conflict, but as an important conversation that will help the relationship move forward. Change your thinking from avoidance to engagement.
  2. Approach it from a perspective of “Help me understand,” instead of “I’m upset.” Empathy is much stronger than anger, and will help the other person be honest and want to join you in coming up with a constructive solution.
  3. Summarize the person’s answer to question 2, so they know that you understand how they feel about the situation. Ask them if you have it right.
  4. Get it over with as quickly as possible. As soon as you know it’s a problem, address it. The longer you wait, the worse it gets, and the heavier it lands on the other person.
  5. Talk about how the situation made you feel. No one can argue with how you feel about something. “When you show up late it makes me feel like I can’t really count on you.”
  6. Begin with a goal in mind. How would you like to come out of the conversation? Simply understanding better what’s going on? Issuing a warning? Fully resolving the problem? Other?
  7. Get curious. Ask clarifying questions. You have your story, they have theirs. Find out what theirs is before presenting yours. Then present it as your story. Ask which parts you have right, and which ones you have wrong.
  8. Be prepared to own your part in the situation. Relationship breakdowns are rarely (but sometimes!) 100% one person’s problem. Be open to acknowledging an area that you need to grow in, too.
  9. Allow for processing time once it’s done. You may not completely agree when the conversation is over with, and that may be okay. Think about it for a few days and meet again later in the week.

Disagreements and relationship friction are a part of life, and the quicker you get better at dealing with them, the more effective, and happier you’ll be.

Getting ahead is about getting started,

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Written by Trevor Throness
Trevor is a veteran coach, keynote speaker, and the author of the book “The Power of People Skills” released by Career Press NY in 2017. He’s also written for or been featured in places like Forbes, Inc, The NY Post, The Globe and Mail, Entrepreneur, CEO Magazine, and numerous podcasts and interviews.

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