Difficult conversations are an inevitable part of life. Whether it’s addressing a sensitive topic with a loved one, confronting a coworker about their behavior, or negotiating a tough business deal, these conversations inevitably cause us anxiety and stress. However, avoiding these conversations can lead to even more problems down the line.
3 Reasons You Don’t Speak Up
- You don’t know what to say. You don’t know how to start that conversation. Let’s face it. Starting is always the hardest part.
- You don’t think it’s your responsibility. Someone else should say something. You think, why do I have to do the uncomfortable thing? Why can’t this person just behave?
- You want to be liked. You want to keep the peace and not rock the boat. You’re conflict avoidant. Conflict scares you and makes you freeze.
You assume that if you avoid the conversation that it somehow disappears. You believe that if you don’t have the difficult conversations or the conflict, if you don’t ruffle someone’s feathers that somehow things are going to be more comfortable.
But avoiding this difficult conversation creates this difficult feeling inside of you. As you are actively avoiding it, you are thinking about it. You can feel the discomfort inside of you when you are around this person.
Part of any relationship is respecting the relationship enough to say when something isn’t working.
Now, sometimes the conversation won’t change the other person, but it will change you. When you have the courage to set boundaries and protect your peace in your life you become a better you.
Try to have these conversations in person or at least zoom. When you can see the person’s facial expressions it brings a whole level of humanity and connection to these conversations.
There is way too much that can get misinterpreted if you’re on the phone. NEVER TEXT THIS STUFF! Too much is misunderstood over texts. You can’t hear tone of voice, or read their face.
According to Harvard Business Review there are two rules you must follow when having a difficult conversation.
- Don’t ever assume that your point is obvious. Because it really isn’t. People are very self-aware about how they feel but not so aware how others feel. We have a massive blindspot when it comes to our own behavior and how we are showing up or others.
- Don’t exaggerate. Don’t say, “You ALWAYS do this.” It makes the person on the receiving end shut down and get defensive. It’s okay to have one example to unpack the dynamic and your feelings. You don’t need to pile on a bunch of stuff.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make these conversations easier and more productive.
Following are six simple steps that can help you navigate difficult conversations with greater confidence and success.
- Know your why. You have to know why you want to have this conversation. What are you hoping to get out of this? This is really important because the why is going to anchor you as you think about the structure of the conversation.
Your why might be something like, “I want to protect my peace.”
- State a simple singular example of what happened.
Narrow the conversation to something very specific, a time, a place that has specific facts around it.
“When you called me Tuesday and said that blah blah blah.
Describe what happened very factually. Don’t use a lot of adjectives. You want to use facts not emotion to start the conversation. You don’t want to put the person on the defensive. Focus the conversation on one specific incident.
I want to talk about last week when you got upset with me about not returning your phone call in the timeframe you thought I should.
- State how it made you feel. I felt x when this specific thing happened. They can’t argue about the impact, intentional or unintentional, that it had on you.
“I felt triggered. I have a lot of past trauma. When you came at me about something that I felt I didn’t do anything wrong, it made me feel like that little kid again that was getting in trouble for something I didn’t do wrong. I don’t OWE you a phone call back. And that’s how I felt when you lashed out at me.“
Ask the other person, “Is there anything you want to say about what happened?”
- Validate whatever you hear.
What you hear is their lived experience. When you validate that, it takes this back from an argument into a conversation.
“I hear you. You needed me. You told me that you needed me to call you back. I can understand how that made you upset.”
- State your why again and make any request you have about a boundary or a change in behavior.
“I just want to protect my peace and remove the drama between us. And so moving forward, please know, I don’t return phone calls on demand. If you need an immediate response I recommend you text me and tell me you need an immediate response. I’ll at least get back to you to let you know if I can call you soon or not.”
By following these six simple steps, you can transform difficult conversations from a source of stress and anxiety into a powerful tool for building stronger relationships and achieving your goals.