Many people hesitate to have important conversations. But you can handle difficult conversations with ease using specific communication skills.
When you feel equipped to handle difficult conversations, you change your life, your interactions, and your relationships. Likewise, when you get curious and avoid judging, you are more likely to be able to handle difficult conversations and share opinions in a kind way. Important to note is that when someone isn’t open to having a difficult conversation, don’t push your point.
Learn how to read a situation and how to approach people. If you aren’t getting anything back, realize the other person is turned away. In the instance someone is fully turned away and invested in their negativity, you’ve got nothing to move the conversation forward.
Discernment in difficult conversations
When you present yourself in a way that is demonstrating curiosity, open-mindedness, and respect, and the person tunes you out, lashes out, or is distracted and uninterested, comment on what you are experiencing, in a kind and respectful way. Don’t go low, stay respectful.
Debra suggested saying “I am trying to have a serious conversation but I feel you are distracted, is this not a good time to talk about it?” Or, “I’m not sure why you’re upset.” Additional examples are, “I am trying to get a point across but I don’t think it’s landing, what am I missing?” Or, “Help me understand what you hear me saying because I don’t think you are getting my message.”
When someone isn’t understanding or isn’t interested, don’t continue to say the same thing over and over. It won’t land.
How to approach a challenging person or interaction
It is often hard to handle a difficult conversation, especially with a difficult person. Most people will not look forward to the conversation. Many will avoid it, especially if they are people pleasers.
People often avoid difficult conversations because they don’t know how to start the difficult conversation. In addition, they get stuck and don’t know what to say once the conversation gets going. They also don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.
Approaching a challenging person is all about your mindset. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt that they want to have a good outcome. Instead of assuming they aren’t in agreement, assume they too want a positive outcome.
Strategies to handle difficult conversations
First, think about who you are talking to. Who is on the other side of the interaction?
Second, think about how you want the other person (people) to feel when you are having the conversation. For example, do you want them to know that you are serious? Do you want them to know that they matter to you?
Third, what objective do you have? What do you want to accomplish? And what are the takeaways you want the other person to have? Write down 1 to 3 takeaways that you want the other person to have. No more than 3 takeaways because people don’t absorb more than that.
Fourth, state your intentions for the conversation. For example, “Can we meet for a half hour, I want to talk to you about “x”.”
Fifth, ask to speak first. State upfront that this is a difficult conversation and ask to speak first. The anxiety you have about how to handle the difficult conversation will be shed off you.
Sixth, prepare by saying what you want to say out loud a few times prior to the conversation. The same as you would for a speaking engagement. Practice until you feel comfortable.
Seventh, ask yourself how you want to come across to truly represent your personal brand and be authentic.
How to respond when a difficult conversation isn’t going well
When you notice the conversation is not going well, stop talking. Take a step back and comment on what’s happening between me and this person. Have the presence of mind not to get defensive when the other person tells you what’s going on for them.
Listen and validate what they say. What the other person experiences and feels has to be important to you. Don’t say “Are you crazy” Do, say “I didn’t mean it the way you heard it, that wasn’t my intention.”
Make a commitment not to be defensive. When you are defensive, the conversation will go into a downward spiral.
As a personal brand, you need to differentiate yourself in your industry. If you want to differentiate yourself as someone who cares about your clients and has their best interests at heart, you need to embrace these conversation skills. Be willing to listen, but also validate the needs of the people you are speaking to.
About Debra Roberts
Debra enables individuals and organizations to see that having tools for effective communication improves everything – culture, mental health, the quality of their interactions, relationships, organizations, and their lives. Her mission is to create a kinder, more peaceful world where we can talk to each other, even about our differences.
Learn more about Debra and connect with her:
Does the thought of having a difficult conversation make you anxious? Yes? Download my free eBook on how to alleviate anxiety by developing healthy habits for a healthy mind.