Difficult Conversation: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Everyone is a leader, and for me leadership equates to influence. We get to influence many lives every day-your family members, friends, your superiors, work mates or subordinates. As a leader one of the most common problem is holding difficult conversation. They are often important. But, because they are hard, we usually avoid holding them. Giving critical feedback is one typical example. The good news is, like any other skill, holding difficult conversation is also a skill that can be practiced to gain mastery. This book provides the detailed process on holding the difficult conversation. It provides us with some important steps to successfully hold a difficult conversation. Following are the brief summary of these steps.
1. Prepare by going through the three levels of conversation. Authors state that, every conversation consists of three different components (i) Content: What happened? What is the story here? Here we make assumptions on truth, intention, and blame. (ii) Feelings: What emotions are involved? An analogy used by the author for conversation without feeling/emotion is “An opera without music” You will probably get the plot but miss the point. (iii) Identity: this component always involves one of the following questions-Am I competent? Am I a good person? Am I worthy of love and respect? This level is about looking inward-self-esteem, self-image, position, respect etc…
Authors suggest us to explore each other’s story rather than arguing about who is right, not to assume intention and impact, and turn the blame game into mapping how each party contributed to the problem.
2. Now that one is clear about the content or the issue, check your intention and decide if the issue is worth raising. What do you hope to achieve by raising the issue? Is it to solve a problem and to help somebody grow (productive)? Or is it just to prove a point and show that you are right (unproductive). Sometimes it is best not to raise the issue at all. If you at all decide to raise the issue, authors suggest the next three steps for the actual conversation.
3. Start from “third story”: it is the way things happened from the perspective of a neutral party with no stake in the problem, but is aware of the whole situation. In other words think like a mediator. It will help in forming a common ground to hold the conversation through joint exploration.
4. Learn their story and share your story: Listen to their story, explore their perspective and empathize. Listen because you care, not because you are supposed to. It has the power to transform the conversation. Share your story, and express your views and feelings. Use the skills of inquiry, paraphrasing and acknowledgement. Reframe each of your stories from that of allegation to understanding about how each contributed to the situation. “What is wrong with you” can be reframed to “What is going on for them”.
5. Problem-solving together: Brainstorm creative ways that addresses both parties concerns and interests. Invent options and alternatives. The authors state that most difficult conversations are not just a single conversation. They are a chain of exchanges that happen over time. So try to consider mutual caretaking and continue keeping the communication open in the future also.
As per the authors, one important insight other than these five steps is being able to disentangle intention and the impact. The impact that the words of others have on us may not be the same as their intention and the impact our words have on others may not be our intention. This for me is the shortest way to approach the difficult conversation and communicating with insight.

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August 25th, 2019 by