You might be able to think of at least one conversation right now that you’ve been putting off. Perhaps you believe that saying something will only make things worse. When it comes to family members, certain conversations can be difficult because they’re so fraught with emotion.
Consider this example. Your sister is in a marriage or romantic relationship you believe is unhealthy and controlling. When you have reason to be concerned about your sister’s well-being or safety, you might very well need to have a difficult conversation with her. Especially when you consider that your sister is likely to feel caught in the middle between you and her romantic relationship.
I feel very fortunate to have recently connected with Judy Ringer, conflict and communication skills trainer and coach, founder of Power & Presence Training and author of several books, including the recent and highly acclaimed, Turn Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace. According to Judy Ringer, when it comes to difficult conversations, you have more power than you think.
Below is a summary of Ms. Ringer’s checklist of action items for before and during your difficult conversations. And the good news is this valuable checklist can be used for difficult conversations whether with family members or at work.
Before the Conversation
- What is your purpose for having the conversation?
- What do you hope to accomplish? Be sure to enter the conversation with a supportive purpose and expect an optimal result.
- What assumptions are you making about this person’s intentions? Be cautious about making inaccurate assumptions.
- What “buttons” of yours are being pushed by the other person’s actions? Become aware of your own emotional triggers and take them out of the equation.
- Is the other person aware of a problem? If so, how might he or she view it?
- How might you have contributed to the problem?
During the Conversation
Become curious. Learn as much as possible about the other person’s point of view. What does he or she really want? What are they not saying? Let the other person talk until finished without interrupting, except to acknowledge.
Acknowledgment means showing that you’ve heard and understood. Explain back what you’ve heard. For example, “this sounds really important to you.”
After the other person is done speaking, clarify what you might see from his or her perspective that they’ve missed, without minimizing their point of view.
Ask the other person what he or she thinks might work as a solution. For example, you might clarify that a solution would need to satisfy what you each need or want. If the conversation becomes adversarial, go back to inquiry. Asking for the other’s point of view usually creates safety and encourages them to engage.
With the art of conversation, Judy Ringer says, like any art, the more you practice, the more you will acquire skill and ease.
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