“What?” you exclaim. “There are plenty of difficult conversations in my life. They happen all the time, with my kids, my boss, my spouse, and even my neighbors.”
STOP… and think about this: The words we use create the worlds we live in. When we call a conversation “difficult”, we use a negative word that may set the stage for a challenging, emotionally charged encounter. Think of the last conversation you labeled as “difficult.” Most likely, some or all of these factors existed:
It was a conversation you didn’t want to have. Perhaps you avoided the conversation for some time, but could no longer do that.
It involved someone important to you, or someone in a position of influence.
You expected the conversation to be uncomfortable.
Under these circumstances, it’s likely that you entered the conversation in a tense state, with your guard up and possibly with well-rehearsed arguments. Without realizing it, you sent very clear signals to your brain to prepare for battle – yes, battle! Sensing danger, your body prepared for fight or flight to protect you from harm.
The next time you need to have a conversation that could be uncomfortable, reframe the situation by using some simple strategies. As with any any newly-learned skill, you’ll improve each time you try these:
Before the conversation:
Use the word “important” – not “difficult”.
Ask yourself why the conversation is important to have right now.
Think about the other person in the conversation. Think about what may be important to him or her, and why.
Take a sheet of paper and put a line down the middle.
Think about good things that could come from the conversation; write those in the left-hand column.
Think about what you can do to make those good things happen. Write those actions in the right-hand column.
Read the list as many times as you can before the conversation.
During the conversation:
Let yourself really listen to the other person, focusing on what he or she is saying instead of formulating your response before he or she is finished.
If you feel negative emotions rising, pause and take a breath (that only takes four seconds, by the way) before you respond.
Recall the list you made before the conversation, specifically the actions you said you could take to achieve good things from the conversation – and do those things.
These are just a few basic strategies to help move any conversation in a more positive direction.
There are important conversations, but there is no such thing as a difficult conversation.