Eight ways to manage a difficult conversation

Wrestling imageJanuary provides the obvious opportunity to assess where we are in life, and where we want to be. We may have had some time over the Christmas break to reflect and we may have set resolutions, or goals for the new year. This can be really positive and give us a feeling that we’ve got a fresh start coming. But it can also mean we realise there are some things that need to change. And change can be hard, and sometimes requires some difficult conversations. Those conversations may be with a partner, or a relative, or even someone you work with like a boss, a team member or a coach. They are usually really daunting and nerve wracking which means we get flustered, we feel under threat and what we want to say can come out wrong.

Here are eight of tricks to put yourself in the best place to have those difficult conversations:

Your physical positioning: Rather than sitting face to face with someone which can feel rather confrontational, being side by side can feel much easier and can take some of the emotion and threat out of the situation. Side by side during a walk or car journey can work well.

Preparation: Write yourself a short note of what you want from the conversation. This helps when you get flustered to keep the tone positive and proactive, rather than becoming an opportunity to throw angry points around. You may want to yell and scream but keeping in mind what you actually want from the conversation will make it a lot more productive with fewer implications if you say something you can’t take back. Use this ‘goal’ as your mantra to keep you on track if you get tempted to pour out everything you are feeling.

The right timing: Make sure there is enough time for the conversation needed. The worst thing is for it to be squeezed into a small gap and the other person to get called away and you having gone through that worry and preparation and not having an outcome.

Know where you will compromise: There is no one universal truth, we all have our own versions, from our own perspective, so it is rare that a difficult conversation ends with a black and white, yes or no or simple outcome. Instead think about your boundaries and where you are prepared to flex them in advance so you don’t feel on the back foot if someone pushes you back.

Try to talk early in the day: If we are nervous about a tough conversation we will wind ourselves up over the day until we are in a great deal of stress. This stress puts our body in a ‘fight or flight’ mode where the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking gets hijacked and we find it much harder to have the conversation we want without tears or frustrations or anger creeping in, ramping up the feeling of conflict within the room.

Use a breathing technique: To calm yourself down before a tough conversation try colourful breathing. This is where you breathe in red (or choose a favourite colour) air for four counts through your nose, hold deep inside you for two counts and then breathe out blue air for six counts through your mouth.

Let the other person vent: Sometimes we just need to have our views listened to, and acknowledged as valid, before we can even think about working on a solution. Playing the grown up in a tough conversation and letting the other person have their say can actually speed up the process and get you both to a resolution much quicker.

Use breaks strategically: if you find yourself getting too worked up and too much emotion creeping into the room excuse yourself for some water or a bathroom break to get yourself calm again. Keep it positive though (rather than looking like you are running away!) so say something like: “I’m so sorry but I could really use some coffee before we continue. Would you like one too?”