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Engaging in Difficult Conversations

Posted February 21, 2017

Stacia Familo-Hopek

difficult conversationWe have all had to engage in conversations from time to time that we would label ‘difficult’. These are the conversations where we anticipate that there will be disagreement or hurt feelings and we feel anxious or nervous about the conversation even before it takes place. There are a few steps that we can take to approach these conversations in a different way, and likely end up with a better result that helps to maintain and strengthen our relationships vs damaging them.

  1. Leave your emotions at the door. Entering a conversation when emotions are high will often result in a more heated exchange and a clear divide between winners and losers. Going into the conversation with a positive and open attitude will enable you to keep an open mind to different perspectives and other possible solutions than what you originally had in mind.
  1. Consider the other person’s perspective – many times we enter a conversation with a preconceived idea of the other person’s views without truly trying to understand what that perspective is and why. Asking questions and reflecting back what we’ve heard to check our understanding are helpful techniques to first ensure that we are clear on the other person’s position and reasons for it.
  1. Once you understand their position, look for commonalities to your own position. Where do you agree? Where do you disagree? Where might you be able to compromise?
  1. Be aware of your body language and tone. Our body language speaks volumes and can tell someone that we aren’t really listening or that we don’t care, even if we are telling them that we do care. Techniques to use include keeping your arms relaxed, leaning forward to show interest and paraphrasing what the other person is saying to check for understanding. In addition, speaking slowly and with low to moderate volume encourages an open dialogue and minimizes the chance of the conversation escalating out of control. In addition, when we use these techniques, the person that we are interacting with will tend to start to mirror our behavior – so if they have been speaking loudly they will start to lower their voice to mirror yours if you continue to speak in a low voice.
  1. Show respect – no matter what you are discussing or what the disagreement is about, we should always treat one another in a respectful and dignified manner. Avoid using profanity or calling the other person derogatory names. These tactics only serve to make you look unprofessional and severely damage relationships.

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