Conversations with people are not always pleasant. In fact, sometimes conversations are down right unpleasant and awkward. Unfortunately sometimes these conversations are also necessary for your own good, the other person’s own good, or the good of both of you.
Earlier this week I delivered a program about initiating awkward or uncomfortable conversations. I decided to deliver this program because I don’t feel confident with confrontation. The very best way to learn is to teach and practice.
Is confrontation necessary?
One of the very first steps is to determine if the confrontation is even necessary. Not all issues need to be addressed. People sometimes get mad just because someone did something to them. Will it make any difference (other than getting it off your chest) if you confront that person? For example, if someone cuts you off while you are driving, what good will come from an impolite hand gesture? You will likely never see that person ever again. If they cut you off on purpose, your confrontation will not prevent them from doing it again. If they cut you off by accident, they already feel bad and don’t need someone reminding them of their mistake.
I am really good at finding a reason not to confront someone if there is an issue. My personality values relationships so I will find myself accepting an issue with someone in my attempt to salvage the relationship. I have learned that in time, I am actually hurting the relationship. Allowing the issue to continue unresolved can slowly chip away at your relationship. There can be a cost to avoiding confrontation with someone.
As I mentioned earlier, it can be easy to let anger get the best of you. Anger rarely can help you in a time of confrontation. One of my favorite quotes:
To help manage your anger, take a minute and breath. When you recognize that you are angry, ask if you can have a minute. Collect your thoughts. Prepare to find a resolution.
One of my favorite bloggers, Seth Godin, recently posted about how to have difficult conversations at work. I agree with Seth when he suggests, not using email when the outcome of the conversation is in doubt. Instead you should speak with the other person face-to-face. Your advantage is the opportunity to change your tone as you listen to the other person during the conversation. You also have opportunities to ask great questions which is usually better than good answers.
Check your motivation
Why are you considering the confrontation? Make sure that your motivation is that you are looking out for the best interest of the other person. Your motivation should be about helping them be more effective. I think the quote from Stephen Covey applies to this as well when Dr. Covey says “Begin with the end in mind”. Envision what the result of your conversation should look like before you even start the conversation.
Key requirements for a difficult conversation
- Make sure the other person is okay with discussing the issue. They may need some time to mentally prepare for the conversation. Remember you have already had time to collect your thoughts. The other person deserves the same opportunity.
- Always speak in private. The old rule of praise in public and counsel in private is true here as well. There is nothing to be gained by either one of you in a public confrontation.
- Be objective when describing the issue. Stick with factual statements and any emotions that YOU have about the issue. Describe how this issue impacts effectiveness, productivity, relationships, etc. Stay away from inserting other people’s opinions.
- Be concerned with the other person’s feelings during the conversation. This stance will help you make positive progress.
When you need to have a difficult conversation with someone, take time to prepare how you want to handle the conversation. Make sure the conversation needs to happen, then paint a picture of what you intend the outcome of the conversation to be. Taking a little bit of time to think about these things can help you and the other person benefit from the conversation.
What is the most difficult conversation you have ever had?
Did the conversation make things better or worse?