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How to make a difficult conversation worthwhile and productive

Win-win situation

Have you ever dreaded the conversation where you have had to tell someone something they don’t want to hear?  Difficult conversations are never fun but if done right they can be worthwhile and productive. 

By leveling with someone you may well be able to turn untenable situation around.  So what’s the best way to hold these tough conversations?

First, don’t let emotions creep into the conversation.  Stick to the facts.  I know that can be tough.  That’s one reason why it’s a good idea to practice tough conversations.  Rehearse.  Ask someone close to you to role play with you.  Then ask them for feedback on how they were feeling when you were talking about the problems that have left you dissatisfied.

Avoid accusatory statements:  You know the kind—“You never. You always …”  All that does is raise the hackles of the person you’re talking to.  Instead make the conversation factual.  “I” statements.  I’d like to review what happened yesterday.”  Then ask them if they are “willing” to engage in a conversation with you.  Finally, give them permission to state their own view of the situation.  If we’re not seeing it the same way I’d like to hear your perspective.

Sometimes, you’ll be dealing with someone who becomes overcome with anxiety when they’re confronted with a problem situation. They may want to solve the problem but feel overwhelmed.  That’s when it’s helpful to break what needs to be done into smaller steps. 

But what happens if you’re non-emotional approach doesn’t work?  You’ve stuck to the facts.  Had the “I” conversation. But the person you’re dealing with still is not willing to discuss the issue.

Here are a few things to do.  First, it’s important to restate what the problem is and what the consequences will be if the situation isn’t fixed.  You can be blunt. “If we can’t turn this around, then I’m facing a difficult decision that may involve ending our relationship.” But once that tough love message is delivered restate your belief that the problem can be solved. Help them understand your interest and theirs is mutual—coming up with a solution to the problem. 

Even though conversations can be difficult, living with the consequences of not facing the issues in the long-term will be even more difficult.

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