Hard talk: Preparing for challenging conversations

Has this guy got the right mindset?

My clients often tell me that they have a challenging relationship with someone they work with, or that they struggle to have challenging conversations. It comes up time and time again and I have been mulling over the conundrum of having to communicate but fearing it, having to work with someone but not knowing how to speak freely, and our tendency to put hard conversations either on the back burner or firmly under the carpet. I once worked with a woman who never shied away from a hard talk. In fact, she lived for them! Conflict and challenge were her bread and butter, and not just for the sake of a good argument but because she kept her eye on the prize. And the prize was what was essential.

Sometimes it is easier at home than at work, and sometimes vice versa. Raise your hand if you know someone who has never feared having a tricky conversation with someone.

Let’s count the reasons:

  • -too scared they won’t like me
  • -don’t want to hurt their feelings
  • -I might lose my job
  • -It will make my relationship with this person so much harder
  • -I don’t want to appear difficult
  • -Maybe it is no big deal
  • -If I say what I think or feel it might open up a scary can of worms
  • -I don’t even know how to start
  • -I am intimidated

Sound familiar? So what to do? 

There are two ingredients we need here: What do you want to do (achieve, clarity, resolve) and who do you want to be ( courageous, clear, strong, firm, humble).

One of my favourite things to do in a coaching session is to take a situation, pick it up and look at it from all angles. Let’s look at the doing and being of this thing. This immediately leads to clarity and options about how to proceed.  As a coach, I don’t give advice but I do ask some powerful questions. Let’s try some here.

Think about a difficult conversation you need to have. As you proceed through these questions take notes. One of the best things you can do is prepare before you head into the discussion and these will help.

Why do you want to have this conversation? What is the desired outcome? What is your intention?

What is your fear? What are you actually scared of? Is this an imagined fear or is it likely? Do you have any fear or is it a different emotion? Get curious about how you are feeling.

Who are you being in this conversation? Dig deep here. Think of a word, an animal, or a person you admire. Let their characteristics guide you. An example here could be: I want to go into this conversation as compassionate so I am going to find my inner Dalai Lama. Or I want to stay firm and rooted in what I want so I am going to find my inner Rocky. It might be as simple as- you want to be someone who holds fairness.

Is this about you or is it about the issue? This is key! Often keeping in mind what you want to discuss, and keeping your eye on that prize, that issue, will help give you some distance. This is not about you it is about the thing you want, the obstacle you want to overcome, and the changes you want to make. Who will really benefit? Is it only you? What is essential?

How will you start? What will your opening words be? Write a script! Put your opening on paper and see how it sounds. Make sure it reflects who you want to be and what your intention is.

What are the possible reactions? What might happen? Look at it from all possible outcomes. How will you respond in each case? Be prepared for any response.

What’s your definition of success here? Do you need an outcome today? Can you walk away and return to it another day? Will it be a success if you introduced your ideas and thoughts but didn’t resolve anything? How could you see that as a success?

Finally, choose an appropriate time and place and visualise yourself having the conversation. Visualize what is essential, the prize. Take 3 deep cleansing breaths before the meeting. Slow down and focus on who you are and not just on what you are doing.

If you enjoyed this please consider forwarding it to someone who might find it helpful. And be sure to check out previous posts by clicking on the blog tab. Thank you for reading I really appreciate it.

Sam x

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