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What are three techniques for approaching difficult conversations?

Difficult conversations are a necessary part of both our personal and professional lives.  If you’re unsure of how to approach them, this article is for you.  Addressing negative comments, bringing clarity to a misunderstanding, and sharing constructive criticism are just a few examples of difficult conversations that you might encounter at home or the office.  Let’s dive into some ways you can get prepared for them.

What is the best way to approach a difficult conversation?

Initiating a difficult conversation might be just the first step in the process, but for some, it might be the hardest.  Because it’s likely to evoke some emotion, you’ll want to approach the other person with words that will help set the right tone before you even begin. Trying saying something like, “I’d like to talk to you about something important.” Another way to say it might be, “I want to make sure we’re on the same page.” Carefully considering your words ahead of time will help show how much this conversation means to you, even if it might be hard for you both.  Once you’ve determined a time and place that works for you both, you’ll want to get prepared with a purpose, a plan, and information that may help convey your thoughts.  

What are three techniques for approaching difficult conversations?

There are a number of techniques for managing difficult conversations, but we think these three are key to helping you build the framework for success in this challenging time.  

  • Active listening.  We tend to listen to respond, but in this case, you’ll want to actively listen.  This helps the person feel heard, valued, and more comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns.  Showing empathy will help to build trust and confidence within the relationship and conversation.
  • Asking open-ended questions.  Open-ended questions will give the other person a chance to say more than “yes” or “no”.  You’ll not only better understand their feelings, but will likely gain a clearer perspective on the situation and maybe learn some things you wouldn’t have otherwise.
  • Use “I” statements.  It is important to communicate your thoughts as well.  Be sure that your perspective is based on knowledge (facts) without placing blame.  You do not want to cause the person to retreat, feeling like this is a personal attack.

Having some specific phrases for difficult conversations ahead of time may even help you to stay on topic and stick to the facts, without bringing in the emotions.  However, if the conversation is inevitably going to be emotional, here are a few pointers.

How do you have an emotionally difficult conversation?

Because the nature of some conversations may naturally evoke emotions, it’s important for both parties to be able to maintain comfort, trust, and confidence.  To deter anger or defensiveness, be sure you incorporate some things that will help the other person maintain their self-esteem.  These phrases for difficult conversations might be, “Thank you for meeting with me today.” Or “Thank you for sharing so openly with me.” Maintaining empathy and openness throughout the conversation will also encourage the person to share as they feel comfortable and trusting of you and the situation.  Be sure you remain engaged and actively listening without distractions, which can quickly reintroduce emotions.

What are the five steps to having difficult conversations at work?

Handling difficult conversations at work can be the most challenging but also have the opportunity to build relationships as well as your confidence in handling conflict.  Here are five key steps to give you a place to start:

  • Prepare ahead of time. 
  • Select a good time and place.
  • Listen.
  • Share your thoughts.
  • Collaborate on a solution.

Work on these five steps, trying to incorporate the tips we mentioned earlier and you’ll be well on your way to getting a better handle on having difficult conversations.

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