Oct 14 2019


I am reminded by these 11th hour political negotiations of how often we delay really important conversations.


Situations where we feel vulnerable, or just simply uncomfortable are swept under the carpet, sometimes for years. I have been delaying a conversation with someone for more than 6 months; it has caused hours of anxiety just thinking about it; thoughts and feelings which are self-created and are not real. So, what makes a conversation difficult?


From Crucial conversations (by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny et al), typical characteristics of a difficult conversation are where;

1. Opinions vary

2. The Stakes are high

3. Emotions are strong or very strong


We worry in advance about what will happen, how we will be perceived, what the outcome will be. From big negotiations to little niggles, we beat ourselves up when conversations do not go as planned or desired. Dealing with people we like, don’t like, know well, don’t know at all, colleague or client, we fret about potential conflict, about the collateral damage; and most of all about how the thought and anticipation of the conversation makes us feel.


Because our relationships are fundamental to our well-being, we must be prepared to make the first move, to listen and then to speak honestly. The more difficult conversations we have, the more we learn. If it doesn’t go well, aim to do better next time.


What commonly happens in difficult conversations that don’t go well?


We ‘push’ too hard, rather than listen

We fear that we might make things worse

We become defensive and they become defensive

We/they become emotional; weepy, silent or angry

We lose track of what we wanted to achieve

We are not prepared or able to handle the unexpected

We want ‘our’ outcome too much and so don’t notice when another acceptable outcome is on offer


What can we do to ensure the best possible outcome from a difficult conversation? On the Alchemy Leadership Programme we have a workshop that explores and practices different ‘real life’ workplace scenarios. Top tips are;


•       Being confident enough to make the first move and be clear on what you want to talk about

•       Know what you want to achieve (it may simply be that the other person understands something), and always start with positive intent, trying to create win-win solutions

•       Be ready for an immediate defensive response. Watch out for your own emotional triggers and any assumptions you may be making about the other person

•       Always come back to the topic, holding your line regardless of the resistance you face (it may take time, and several conversations, for real understanding)

•       Use clear and positive language delivering it assertively and unemotionally

•       Listen, Listen, Listen  ‘Let silence do the heavy lifting’, ensuring good communications, before and afterwards

•       Recognise a success when it comes even if it is not everything you wanted, and agree next steps, monitoring progress and maintaining dialogue


‘While the desire to please is not a flaw, at crucial crossroads we sometimes go too far. Way too far. When faced with a so-called moment of truth, we find ourselves chucking the truth over the fence or tucking it behind the drapes in exchange for a trinket of approval’ (Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott)


Get in touch about the Alchemy Leadership Programme to enhance the quality of your conversations in 2020



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