Mastering Difficult Conversations – Part 2


There are two parts to mastering difficult conversations. In this second part we will focus on asking for positive change. This requires honesty and compassion, otherwise your honesty will present as brutality.

There are 5 Steps to asking for Positive Change. Remember, honesty is important, but honesty without compassion is brutality, so you always want to approach a difficult conversation with compassion.

Step 1, observe. State what you are observing. This includes facts, this does not include evaluation, judgement and generalizations. It’s a huge relationship killer to tell your coworker something like, “You are always late to the office”! That is a generalizing a behavior that automatically makes someone on the attack. Instead, address the situation, “I frequently notice you are late to the office. Can you tell me about what’s going on with you?” So we need to externalize the problem. Make sure that it is separate from the person. Because the person is not the problem, the behavior is. A couple examples of the difference between what it means to state the observation versus including evaluation. At home is might look something like, “You have 5-10 pairs of shoes at the front door.” At the office, it’s something like, “I noticed that you’ve just finished the presentation for the meeting this morning, just right before the meeting.”

Step 2 is to identify your feelings. Remember, part of this process is staying cool, calm and collected. You are asking for positive change. So when you identify your feelings, it’s okay if you are frustrated, but keep the frustration contained, not, “I feel so frustrated!” You want to open the conversation and say, “I feel frustrated that…” Make sure you know what you’re feeling, and keep it simple, happy, sad, mad, glad. As long as you can deliver it with, I have this feeling, but contain it in a way that allows the other person to hear it. That’s what is going to make this a productive conversation.

Step 3 in asking for positive change is clearly stating your need for change. When we ask for the need and positive change, speak clearly, firmly and positively. An example of asking for the positive change and the need portion is, “I need to trust. I need to trust that you are going to show up on time for office meetings. I need to trust you’re going to show up to dinner on time because it’s important to me.” Remember, this is your need, so don’t externalize or project it onto them. It is your need, so own it.

Step 4 is to state your request. Give them a roadmap of what you need from them. “I want you to show up five minutes before the meeting every time.” or “I want you to be home three days a week in time for dinner.” State exactly what it is you are asking from them and remember, you are asking from them. They still get to decided whether they agree or not.

Step 5, ask for feedback as you are going through the conversation. Ask things like, “How are we doing? Are you good with this conversation? Is there more that you want to get through?” Make sure you address one point at a time. Too many points that you are trying to make and asking for positive changes completely emotionally floods the other person. They don’t even know where to start, they feel like they are drowning in emotion. It just creates a lot of anxiety for people, or makes them want to shut down. So remember, ask for feedback as you go along in the conversation, so that you get to be heard, and the other person doesn’t feel flooded. For example, asking for feedback at work might sound like, “How are we doing here? Are we on the right track for this conversation?” At home it may sound something like, “I’m feeling understood. How are you doing? Is there something more you want to say to make sure that we’re good?”

Difficult conversations don’t have to be so difficult if you develop the skills to have them.

Mastering Difficult Conversations – Part I


There are two parts to mastering difficult conversations. In this first part we will focus on effective listening. This requires empathy.

There are three parts to effective listening. Remember, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much. First, tune out the noise. Put your technology down, get present with the person you’re trying to have a conversation with. Close the office door. Put the computer aside. Give them the gift your presence. Quiet the noise on the outside so you can be present with them in that moment. Then, remember while you are also paying attention to what’s happening inside of yourself, attune to the other person’s needs. What is their core message. What are they trying say. Not everybody is very direct and clear with what it is that they need. So being able to really attune to the feeling or the message they are trying to get across is really critical. Ask yourself in that moment what it is that they are really trying to tell me. What do they need from me.

Let’s give a quick example of what it looks like to attune to the underlying message. Say your assistant comes and says: “Hey I heard we are doing a whole office redesign. I have my undergrad in ergonomics. Can I be a part of the project?” What do you think she is really trying to say? Maybe she’s really trying to say, I’m looking for more responsibility. I’m wanting to participate more and be more engaged. So it’s important that you pay attention to the underlying messaging not just the content of what’s being said. What does it look like to attune to your partner at home? Let’s just say your wife says: “I can’t believe you’re working again late tonight.” What is her underlying need? In that moment it might be she misses you and she don’t know how to say I miss you and instead she comes at you with a little bit more of what might feel like an attack. So pay attention where you can, what the underlying need is and that’s gonna help you have a more productive effective difficult conversation. So step number two is summarize what you heard them say. It’s really important that you just state the facts as you heard them not filter it with your opinions and combating with what you think you need to say in order to defend yourself. That’s gonna cause a really difficult conversation to ensue. So just take it one step at a time. Maybe have only one or two bullets of what it is that you know that you would need to sit with and process.

So again, summarize what you heard them say and ask them is that accurate? Did I get you? Ask them to clarify. The asking for clarity instead of making an assumption of what it is they’re trying to say. It’s really important and making sure that the other person feels heard. It’s gonna help you respond to exactly what it is that they’re trying to communicate. So difficult conversations don’t have to be quite so difficult if you develop the skills to have them.