Making Difficult Conversations Easier
Most people would prefer me to write about getting rid of the need for awkward discussions, rather than about making difficult conversations easier. This is no more possible than waving a magic wand and get rid of all the ice and snow in winter. However, just as we can lessen the drawbacks and limit the damage/ danger of travelling in winter, there are things we can do to ease having those talks we dread.
So this blog kills two birds with one stone–providing tips on going out in wintry conditions AND helping you safely navigate those tricky conversations.
Stay Home (Keep Silent)
With bad weather and with difficult conversations, our first choice is usually not to go out into a hostile environment.
Sometimes that is the right decision. With bad weather, it may be that the reason to go out is not urgent or you can make other arrangements.
If the weather is worsening and the reason for going is pressing, then the sooner you brave the elements the better.
So too, with difficult conversations. The first step in making difficult conversations easier is to work out whether you actually need to have one. Here are some ways of working out whether you need to have that conversation or not
Should I speak up?
To decide whether or not to speak up, I ask myself:
- How important is this?
- What’s my motive for staying silent?
- What is likely to happen if I don’t speak up?
- Is this the right time and place?
- Will my speaking out really cause more harm than not speaking out? What are the real dangers?
- Do I have enough information that I am right? Am I clear about what I am speaking out about?
Some difficult conversations are like appendicitis–if you don’t get it sorted soon, it can be disastrous. If you are really interested in making difficult conversations easier, the early you start talking the better. My A4 Risk Assessment helps you work out what is the safest option. (More on speaking up or staying silent)
Prepare for the Weather (the Situation)
Sensible people prepare before venturing into wintry weather. They wear warm clothes, hats, gloves and suitable footwear. They check that the antifreeze and windscreen wipers. If planning a long journey in the winter they take a shovel, sleeping bags and some provisions, just in case. If the path is icy, they spread salt or grit. They put on tires that grip.
So, how can I prepare for difficult conversations?
First, we need to get our story straight, so we know what we are having the conversation about. Ideally we will have practice on a less crucial conversation.
Then we need to check the accuracy of our story. Have we got all the facts? Is there any other interpretation of them? To work out what your story is and check it, download A5 Get Your Story Straight
Speeding and suddenly braking causes disasters on the roads. The best way to navigate in icy conditions is to drive slowly and steadily, to walk carefully in shoes with a good grip.
So too with sensitive topics and touchy people. Don’t rush the issue, but don’t dither. Be clear, but also listen. This little illustration and the words Martial Art remind us of the principles of managing a difficult conversation. Just like a martial art, the more you practice, the better you get.
In ice and snow, the stopping distance is much greater and the driver has less control over the vehicle. So one needs to allow more time for reaction and look ahead.
In a difficult conversation, it is much the same–things can spin out of control very quickly. So we need to step back from our emotional reactions and make space for logic. We need to be alert to signs of things going wrong. We need to work with the conditions, not fight them. Pause. Breathe. Listen.
Don’t Stop If Making Progress
If a driver stops on an icy hill, it is very unlikely that the car will be able to make it up the hill. So too with a sensitive discussion. If you stop when the conversation slows and is sensitive, it will be almost impossible to restart the conversation.
Obviously, there are times when the situation is deteriorating so fast that stopping is the best solution whether driving or talking.
If you would like help with driving in bad weather, talk to the AA (AAA in USA). If you’d like help with a difficult conversation, email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an initial free confidential conversation.