For many of us, our instinctive reaction to facing what might be termed a 'difficult' conversation is to ignore the issue and hope that it goes away. Fat chance.

I inherited my own head-in-the-sand approach from my mother.  I believed she'd accidentally slipped it into my DNA until I eventually saw how futile, time-consuming and destructive my approach was – and that I could do things differently. 

At some point in our lives we all need to have a 'difficult' conversation with a partner, a peer, a team-member or a boss, about anything from a performance gap to something more personal.

How well we manage the conversation has a huge impact on our relationship, so understandably we're often anxious about bringing stuff up. We either avoid it for so long that when we do tackle it it comes as a complete shock to the other party, or we rush at it like a bull in a china shop just to get it over with, paradoxically damaging the relationship in the process.

But it doesn't have to be this way. The sooner we stop thinking of them as difficult conversations and start seeing them as enabling conversations, the sooner we're able to step up and master the simple skills it takes to communicate anything to anyone.

The only reason we would ever embark on an enabling conversation is to try to make something better - be that performance, behaviour or our relationship. And whatever 'better' looks like to us, it needs to feel better for both parties.  

So here are our top ten tips to help you get the result you're after:

  • Choose the right conversation - at the right time.
  • Be clear in your own mind about the outcome you're seeking.
  • Invite them in - how you initiate the conversation builds trust and a sense of safety.
  • Maintain faith in people's desire to do their best.
  • Approach with concern and curiosity - not judgement.
  • Listen to their perspective.
  • Talk about the effect of behaviours on you/others.
  • Use contrasting to build safety - "I don't want you to think that..."
  • Offer support and reassurance - how can you or others help them to succeed?
  • Look forward to solutions, not backwards to blame.

 

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