Are you putting off a difficult conversation?

Do you need to have a difficult conversation with someone?  Do you keep delaying it?  If so, you are not alone.  I see this all the time (and to be honest, I sometimes do it myself).

What is it that makes us avoid those hard conversations?  Even though we know that they need to happen, and the sooner the better?

Well, the first obvious reason is that these conversations are difficult!  We rarely put off things that are easy, right?! The problem is, however, that the longer we leave them, the harder they get.  Most people realise this, but they still procrastinate.

This continuous delaying (even when we know it’s not sensible) is usually driven by fear.  We are afraid we will say the wrong thing. We are afraid what the reaction might be from the other person.  We are afraid of the consequences of our speaking up.  We are afraid that we could make things worse.

These fears are not completely unfounded, and the risks are real.  However, there are things that we can do to minimise the risks and to build up our confidence to have that hard conversation.  Here are some strategies that help in getting ready for a difficult conversation.  You can probably do them yourself, but you might find that you can do them better with someone like a conflict coach to talk you through them:

1.  Get your facts straight (well, as much as you can… sometimes you also need to get clear about what you don’t know, and maybe need to ask the other person).

2.  Be really clear about your purpose for having the conversation.  Are you providing feedback for performance management type reasons?  Are you hoping to change the other person’s behaviour?  Are you just wanting to get something off your chest?  Are you seeking something from the other person?

3.  Come up with, and practice, a number of different ways to say what you need to say to the other person.  Try to map out the range of different responses you could get for each thing you might want to say to them.  (e.g. what’s worst case scenario, what’s best case scenario, what other things in between might happen?)

4.  Think about how you could manage the consequences of the range of reactions you thought of.  (e.g. if the person start to cry, what will you do; if the person gets angry and defensive, what will you do; if the person seems to shut down, what will you do?).

These things won’t necessarily make you completely fearless, but you will certainly be more prepared and able to manage a range of possible scenarios.