We have a tendency to mentally rehearse anticipated difficult conversations. Often with these we tell someone off, explaining why we acted a certain way or what they did wrong. Frequently we take a self-righteous tone. These conversations rehearsed are usually not the ones we end up having, if indeed we have them at all. An exercise like this is a good way to blow off steam, making it possible to focus on what really might be constructive, especially if we remember that there are two people in the conversation.
But the conversation we want to have isn’t necessarily the conversation we should have. The conversation we want to have is usually a monologue and by definition not a conversation at all. The dynamic nature of conversation makes it difficult to plan for. So how should we approach important and often difficult conversations? The following questions can help you figure that out:
- Reflect on your stirred up emotions. Are you hurt? sad? angry? Why might you feel that way?
- What is at stake for you? Reputation, respect?
- What one thing would you most like the other person to understand about you?
- What meaning are you giving to the other person’s behavior?
- What is at stake for the other person—as best as you can honestly determine?
- What do you think they believe (negative) about you? Why?
- Can you agree to disagree?
- Is this about a particular issue or the relationship in general?
- Can you see this conversation as part of a process rather than an event?
- Can you approach the conversation in the spirit of achieving understanding rather than winning a competition?
In the communication coaching I do, we explore these questions to discover the conversations my clients should have, not the ones they initially want to have. The ones that seem important when their emotions are running high and the likelihood of increased conflict looms.
When you approach someone to have an important conversation, they often sense your energy, through your demeanor, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. If you’ve settled in to truly prepare to seek understanding instead of just making a point, you’re more likely to be joined in spirit. Then you have an opportunity to learn something and move forward constructively.
Communication Tip: First, make your good intentions known to the other person. For example, “I’d like to revisit the difficult conversation we had yesterday and see if we can get on a better track with each other.”