I want to address difficult conversations this morning. We tend to have a binary approach to these situations. The two categories in our brains look something like this:
- I’m right and need to persuade this person that I’m right
- They are wrong, and I need to show them that, too
But I want to let you in on an inescapable truth that colours all of these situations:
Everyone is the hero of their own story.
Let me give you a few examples to prove my point:
The internal narrative of a political liberal: “I must stand up for the planet and for progressive values so that the world can be a better place. Disagreement can’t be tolerated because human survival and basic human rights are at stake!”
The internal narrative of a political conservative: “I must stand up for traditional values because as we forsake them, the world spins out of control and goes bonkers. If I don’t stand up for these values, it will mean the end of Western civilization!”
The internal narrative of a typical boss: “For the sake of the team and the business, I must deal with this difficult person and show them that they’re wrong. If I don’t, our work culture will erode, and everything will be worse for my best people!”
The internal narrative of an under-performing employee: “I must be strong and put up with the constant, unfair harassment of management for the sake of my family. If I don’t sullenly put up with their bullying and bring home a paycheque, how will my loved ones survive?”
You see? So here are my suggestions when approaching these situations:
- Assume that the other person has a story that you don’t know about. Encourage them to share it with you. Draw them out with open-ended questions such as:
a. Help me understand…
b. Tell me more about…
c. Please elaborate….
- Bite your lip and listen, even if what they’re saying sounds preposterous to you. They are the protagonist of their story, and until you know the basic plotline, you won’t get far with them. People are open to hearing from you ONLY when they feel understood.
- Look for points of agreement and acknowledge any parts of their story that you believe are true. Even if you think that the rest of what they’re saying is bunk. “I really admire your commitment to your family. They’re lucky to have someone like you to care about them.”
- Approach these conversations from the perspective of a learner. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Once a person feels understood, they’re much more likely to hear your side of the story.
Change your approach from a binary, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ to a, ‘let’s hear each other out and work on a mutually agreeable go-forward plan.’
You’ll find that you’ll be much more successful if you start by listening.