Having difficult conversations
Communication often involves a conversation, and sometimes those conversations are difficult.
Back when I worked at CSIRO, I was fortunate that conversations were usually easy, but I did do a training course on how to have difficult conversations. I recall the tips involved preparing (and having notes) for the difficult conversation, not ambushing the person with whom you’re having the difficult conversation (that is, don’t have a friendly coffee and then raise the difficult topic), and have clear follow-up actions (to make the conversation lead to a change).
Last month I again attended a training course on how to have difficult conversations. The called Crucial Conversations workshop was presented by the Monash Business Awards – Scientell won the microbusiness category of the awards in 2017.
The presenter, Geoff Flemming, listed the things that get in the way of effective conversations. These included:
a lack of knowledge and skills of how to deal with tough issues under pressure, as people aren’t taught this and instead resort to a fight (violence) or flight (silence) response
a tendency to shut down when overwhelmed, which might help us cope but won’t resolve the problem as silence causes more problems.
However, having the right conversation can clear things up. Geoff highlighted 5 skills to help difficult conversations go safely.
- The first 30 seconds of a conversation will determine its nature and structure. Describe the problem, explain the facts (not conclusions, opinions or allegations) and be overt about what you intend to do.
- Be clear what the conversation is about. Is it about the problem you need to resolve, the pattern of behaviour causing the problem, or the relationship behind the problem?
- Discuss natural consequences first to understand the consequences of the behaviour to naturally motivate the change, and only then turn imposed consequence (from laws and rules), which are punishments.
- Explain the problems that people may not be able to see result from their actions.
- Nip any misunderstandings in the bud.
The workshop aimed to provide people with skills to step into disagreement, rather than over or around it, to improve relationships and results.
I’ll try to do things that avoid the need to have a difficult conversation, but at least now if there is a problem I’ll know how to talk about it.