Sometimes we have to talk about things we simply don’t want to. Whether it’s a problem at home with our partner, a disagreement at work with a colleague or a touchy subject with a friend, some difficult conversations just can’t be avoided. To help make these talks less stressful and more successful, here are five tips to help you have difficult conversations.
How to have difficult conversations
1. Be clear
Before you approach the other person to have the difficult conversation, you first need to be clear about what the problem is. Ask yourself three things:
- What is the problem?
- What is causing the problem?
- What impact is the problem having?
When you know the answers to these three questions, clearly summarise them in two or three statements in your mind. This will help you stick to the point and avoid going off on a tangent when it’s time to discuss it.
2. Know what you want to achieve
Another point you need to cover before you approach the other person is to be clear about your objective. Decide:
- What the best outcome looks like
- Any points you’re not willing to negotiate on
- What points you are willing to negotiate on and how much you’ll compromise
This way you’ll have a strong map in your mind of how the conversation will go and you won’t be caught off guard.
3. Embrace silence
When you speak to the person, there will likely be moments of silence. Don’t be in a hurry to fill those moments with words. Silence in a conversation allows us to reflect on what has been said and form a coherent response. Pauses also have a calming effect and can help us better connect. If you rush in and fill each silence with a stream of words, it’s possible the other person will feel overwhelmed, undervalued and will clam up.
4. Preserve the relationship
It takes years to build up strong relationships and only minutes to make them come crashing down. Throughout your conversation, remember that the person you’re talking to is a human being and treat them with the respect they deserve. Choose your words carefully so they fix the situation instead of creating a wall between the both of you.
5. Choose the location carefully
The best place to have difficult conversations is in a neutral location that everyone is comfortable with. This creates a sense of equality and will lead to a more successful talk. For example, if you need to discuss an issue with an employee, avoid having the chat in your office where the balance of power is too much in your favor. Instead, consider a meeting room where you can sit side-by-side or even a local coffee shop.
For more advice on how to have difficult conversations, pick up a copy of Douglas Stone’ “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” from Amazon. This New York Times bestseller is bursting with helpful information about how to approach the most sensitive subjects and includes a great new chapter on answers to ten questions people ask.
Do you have any tips on how to have difficult conversations? Share them below and help others trying to talk to people about sensitive subjects.