"Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional."
Difficult conversations are a normal part of life. No matter what personal or professional gains you make, there will always be difficult conversations that have to take place. Let's look at what you could do to make them easier. Better yet, how about making those conversations more impactful, too? Let's get started.
Perhaps the old friend you hired has become a liability to the company, and you have been chosen to fire him. Or maybe the project you are working on took twice as long as you told the client it would, but you can’t afford not to charge for the extra time. According to The Harvard Negotiation Project, a research team and authors of Difficult Conversations, there are actually three undercurrents driving the energy behind each conversation you have.
1.The “What Happened” Conversation
This is the disparity between each parties’ interpretation of what has happened. Who is right?
Let’s face it, no matter how we phrase it, we are usually telling the other side that they are to blame. The fact is that there isn’t a right or wrong. You may reply, “But I KNOW that he is wrong!” Actually, the only certainty is that you and your counterpart have completely conflicting perceptions, interpretations and values. Shift the focus away from establishing blame and toward an acknowledgment that we can never truly know other peoples’ intentions.
2.The "Feelings" Conversation
Whose feelings are valid? How should you address feelings without walking into a landmine?
Regardless of how much you try to check your emotions at the door, there are emotional undercurrents to most difficult conversations. Even more, difficult situations don’t just involve feelings, they are based on feelings. Sometimes a situation is so sensitive that feelings can’t even be broached. You will benefit from knowing how to acknowledge and talk about the feelings associated with the situation.
3.The "Identity" Conversation
What does this situation mean to each of us? What judgments are we likely making about each other?
This conversation is often the most subtle and complex. However, it offers leverage in managing anxiety and improving your results in the other two conversations. This conversation asks “What does this say about me?” Even when you are the one who is delivering the bad news, identity still comes into play. How will people see you after this conversation?
As you can tell, this method is really about conflict resolution and starts by being able to effectively listen to the perspectives of the other person in the conflict situation and then depersonalize the conflict.
What would shift in your communications if you spent the first two minutes of every interaction just making sure you’ve understood the other party’s perspective?