Difficult Conversations

Over the last year, I have been travelling to learn about my friends’ lives. The trips are short, and we have the opportunity to talk a lot. By keeping the trip short, and going to my pals, the quality of the conversation is high and the inconvenience to my family is small. The trips have a large payoff for me:

  • Gratitude for the life I have
  • Learn what’s good about their lives – try to figure out the payoff from living like them
  • Make sure I see friends that I want to keep in my life
  • Learn about an aspect of their lives where they have different knowledge than me (teenagers, aging, the transition to adulthood, healthcare, performance psychology, grief & loss).
  • Do something random to generate new opportunities.

One of my favorite discussion topics is managing difficult conversations. For example, a challenging situation for doctors is telling the mirror image of themselves about the arrival of their greatest medical fear – cancer or terminal illness.

I ask questions about.. How to cope? How to be effective? What is best practice?

These skills are useful at work and are essential to create an exceptional family web. I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.

Before a difficult conversation, pause and remember:

  • This situation is not about me
  • I am part of the solution
  • Be cautious
  • Understand that I will make incorrect assumptions about everything around me

The points above get me in a relaxed frame of mind, especially when combined with my Big Meeting Protocol. The mental preparation works best when combined with an on-going process of self-reflection (that I like to do while cycling). You’ll be surprised that you can mute your emotional triggers by awareness that they exist.

Understand your hot bottons – examples might be: not caring, not doing enough, letting someone down, past mistakes where I’ve yet to ask for forgiveness, or not addressing areas in my own life where I need to make change.

Know your desired outcome – examples might be: clear communication, exit a relationship, create consensus, make better decisions.

Follow up in writing – if the conversation triggers fear, or anger, in the other person they are unlikely to remember the conversation. Even if you’re hearing each other, everyone hears a different conversation. Certainly, everyone remembers a different conversation.

Focus on helping the other person – I’m more likely to get my desired outcome if I help the other person achieve their own goals. A doctor might ask a terminally ill patient, “is there an up-coming event that we can focus on getting you to attend?” Alternatively, a family member might have concerns about public perception, confidentiality or independence.

Remembering my tendency to make incorrect assumptions – I like to gather information from the other party so I can better serve their needs. Often, a person’s needs are as straightforward as being listened to, respected and valued.

Finally, I remember that my mission isn’t to change others…

  • …because I don’t know best
  • …because I have my hands full with myself
  • …because my life is my source