How to make hard conversations easier

How do you feel when you know you’ve got to have a hard conversation with someone?

Almost everyone would rather avoid these. When you know it’s got to happen, you might feel tension in your shoulders or head, or your heart rate might rise.

The only thing that can really make these easier is practice. Over time you start to recognize that conflict is necessary and even healthy.

But there are better and worse ways to prepare for and have these conversations. Knowing what’s more likely to work can help those conversations go better. Then, when that happens, you’ll feel a positive feedback loop, and you’ll be that much more ready for the next one.

Here are five principles for making hard conversations easier.

  1. Prepare for them. This might seem obvious, but sometimes these conversations go poorly because we didn’t think through what we really want to say. Your tone, timing, approach, and context all matter. Are your emotions high? If possible, delay the conversation.
  2. Focus on the issue, not the person. If we’re on a team together, it’s you and I against the issue—not me versus you.
  3. Assume positive intent. Most of the time, people don’t intend to make mistakes. If you think poorly of someone, they’ll know. And if they think you think poorly of them, their brain will make it hard to listen to you even if they want to.
  4. Use non-baiting questions. It’s important to assume you don’t have the whole picture and to give people a chance to share their own “story.” But you can’t ask questions for the purpose of catching someone. Use questions to demonstrate empathy and curiosity, and to help someone arrive at a conclusion without needing to hammer it down.
  5. Finally, build trust in advance. This is the most important item here. If people trust you, they’ll assume you’re really trying to help them. Trust is like a bank. Build up a large reserve before making a withdrawal through a hard conversation.

Mastering hard conversations takes practice, but it’s a skill worth honing for healthier relationships and a more positive work environment. By following these five principles and investing in trust-building efforts beforehand, you can navigate difficult discussions with greater ease and effectiveness.

Contact a member of our team to learn more.

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