Mastering Difficult Conversations – Part I

Personal Topics | Professional Topics


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.