Skills You Need to Have a Difficult Conversation

Having recently started a new role I have been having lots of conversations as I get to know the business and the challenges that individuals face. As with any business, change is a constant and one of the things that people tell me they find most challenging is some of the potentially difficult conversations that they find themselves needing to have.

That set me reflecting on the skills we need to have in order to be able to deal with those difficult conversations and how to ensure they go well. Over the next few posts I want to explore that in a little more detail and in this first post in the serious I will look at the skills we need.

Throughout life, there come times where we must have difficult conversations with others. No one really wants to, because most people do not like confrontation. And while difficult conversations are never easy, if you avoid them there are still consequences which can often be much worse than just having the conversation to start with.

Think of it this way: by avoiding difficult conversations, you are deciding to ignore the solution and allow the problem to continue. When you look at it like that, it becomes clearer that you must have difficult conversations so that you can find solutions.

Having difficult conversations can be easier if you develop certain skills that make you better at communication and problem solving.

Skills You Need to Have a Difficult Conversation

Developing skills that you need to succeed with difficult conversations is possible for everyone. You need to know who you are, what your goals are, and how to reach them. When you know what you need and take the steps to achieve your goals, you will be successful.

  • Information Gathering – The first thing to do is gather the right type of information to support your goals. For example, if this is a discussion at work so you can get a raise, you want to show proof that you deserve the raise. If this is about a problem you’re having with your spouse, you want to remember situations that occurred due to this issue. Not to use against them, but to learn what you can do differently.
  • Be Assertive – To have difficult conversations, assertiveness is necessary so that you can go forth with it without procrastination. It’s hard to have tough talks, but once they’re over it’s usually not as bad as you thought it would be. Most of the time our fears aren’t founded, and when they are, you can use other skills to mitigate problems.
  • Be Empathetic – Right now you may think that the problem is really the other person’s issue. But if you can look at things from their side, and even argue their side for them in order to show them you do get it, that will go far in helping bring them closer to understanding your view too.
  • Control Your Emotions – Depending on the topic, it can be very hard to control your emotions, but you must if you want to reach a solution. Even if you cry, or feel angry, or shake, you can still control what you say and do. For example, even if you’re angry, don’t yell accusations or start playing the blame game.
  • Be Willing to Negotiate – Most of the time the answer is in between what they want and what you want. If you can negotiate, you’ll both come out feeling like winners because you solved the problem.
  • Understand Verbal and Non-Verbal Language – When we communicate, we transmit both verbal and non-verbal cues. Sometimes these can be interpreted wrongly, especially if you were raised differently or have different cultures. If you’re in doubt, ask. Never assume intention.
  • Listen – Listening involves more than hearing. It involves hearing and understanding. If you want to really understand someone, you need to learn how to listen actively.
  • Learn Conflict Negotiation – Even if you don’t often have difficult conversations in your life, learning conflict negotiation skills can go very far in helping prepare you for general communication throughout your life. Harvard Business Review has books and guides about this very topic.

When you grow these skills, it will not only improve your ability to have successful difficult conversations but it will also improve your relationships in every aspect of your life. In my next post I will look at how you can prepare for the next difficult conversation you have to have.

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty about Finding Time for You

One of the worst things anyone can ever do to themselves is pile on the guilt for wanting to have some time to themselves and put themselves first. In fact, putting yourself first is really the reverse of being selfish. Because of that fact, there is no reason to feel guilty. Let’s go through some ways to lessen and even eliminate your guilt about sometimes putting your needs first.

* Your Family Loves You – Your family will respond fine to you finding time to put yourself first, especially when it comes to your health and happiness. They want you to be happy. If you tell them that these 15 minutes (or an hour) of whatever activity you do alone is important to you and why, they’ll respect it. Even if they don’t at first, they’ll come around. Dr. Phil once said, “You teach people how to treat you.” And while a lot of what he says may not be true, this one quote is.

* Your Friends Care about You – Like most people, even your best friends will take advantage of you if you let them. It’s not that they don’t care about you or that they mean to take advantage. It’s the fact that if you say yes, they just assume you want to say yes. Try saying no, and your friends will respect you and understand.

* You’ll Enjoy Life More – When you have some downtime that is just for you, to do whatever is that you love doing (whether that is reading, painting, walking, or meditating), you’ll be a happier, more well-rounded person who enjoys life a lot more.

* It’s Really a Requirement Not an Option – The fact is, you shouldn’t feel guilty for doing something that is really a requirement in your life. It’s not optional to take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be productive or happy.

* If You Get Sick What Will Happen? – When you don’t put yourself first, you’ll end up sick. What happens when you’re sick? If you go to bed for a few days with the flu or other illness, does the world fall apart? Did you know that if you take the time to care for yourself, you’ll be less likely to get ill?

* Your Feelings Transfer to Others – It’s hard to believe, but when you’re overworked and say yes to things you’d rather not do, it shows. People may not be able to interpret the actual reason behind your attitude, behavior, or energy, but they can sense that something is off. This can make other people feel uncomfortable without understanding why.

* You Can Only Control Yourself – Some women have a hard time with guilt when they make themselves a priority because they think that deep down, things just won’t get done right if they’re not doing it. But the truth is, that’s not your problem. You can only control yourself; you can’t control everyone else.

* Prioritizing Yourself Doesn’t Mean Neglecting Others – Some people think that “me” time means that you neglect others. That’s just not true. You just have to learn to differentiate needs versus wants. Needs are before wants. You need time to yourself and you need to take care of yourself. That’s far more important than whether you run the PTA bake sale or Betsy does.

Honestly, the more you learn to put your needs before other people’s wants, the happier, healthier, and better you’ll be at everything that you do. If you won’t put yourself first, no one else will – not your partner, not your kids, and not your friends. It must be you.

I Want To Be Alone!

Earlier today I was talking with Rachel Burnham about how sometimes we need to find time in our busy schedules just to be alone with ourself which set me thinking about why this is important. I believe that spending time alone is good for you. In fact, there are so many benefits to being alone occasionally that if you’re not doing it now, it’s something that you should schedule into your days.

1. It’s Important to Enjoy Your Own Company – If you’re someone who thinks that person at the corner café reading a book alone is lonely, think again. Being alone can be very meditative, enabling you to just be without having to entertain anyone. When you can learn to be in the moment with yourself, you’ll be a better friend to others too.

2. Alone Time Encourages Creativity – When you’re alone, it’s easier to get into a creative space so that you can think of new ways to do things. It’s only when you can be alone and centered that you can come up with the best ideas, due to the lack of distractions getting in the way of your thoughts and ideas.

3. You’ll Get More Done – There is no doubt that if you also turn off electronics when you’re alone, you’ll get more tasks done than if you’re with others. With no one to distract you to do something else, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in one hour alone compared to five hours with a friend.

4. It’s a Great Way to Recharge – Anytime you’re feeling stressed out, try getting even 10 minutes alone to just breathe. Take a brisk walk. If you have to, take a long shower. Do what you can to spend some time alone to revive your mind and body.

5. Helps Improve Depression Symptoms – Studies have shown that spending time alone can help improve problems with depression. Some people think it’s the opposite, but that’s not true. That’s why teenagers often need a lot of time alone in their room. It helps them deal with the stress of the world in a healthy way.

6. Enables You to Clear Your Mind – Do you have too much noise in your brain to focus? Go take a few deep breaths alone. It will only take a few moments. It’s better if you can find an hour or so a day of alone time but if you can’t, even a few moments to breathe can help you clear your mind.

7. You Can Better Let Go of Stress – Some stress that we experience in life is caused by too much activity, too many people, and too much pressure on your time. If you schedule in alone time, you’ll find that you deal with that stress while it’s happening so much better.

8. You Can Do Anything You Want To – The fact is, if you choose an hour a day to spend alone, you can do whatever you want with that time. You can sit there and stare at the wall, or you can meditate, take a walk, exercise or even watch your favorite TV show without interruption. It’s totally up to you how you spend your alone time.

There are enormous benefits to spending time alone. It’s not lonely. There doesn’t need and shouldn’t be activity continuously happening with tons of people around at all times. Human beings aren’t built to always be “on”. Sometimes we need to shut down – and not just at bedtime. If you want to be healthier, happier, and a more well-rounded person, try to schedule in alone time each day.

21 Body Language Habits to Avoid

There are a number of body language habits that are generally considered to send a negative message and it is therefore suggested are best avoided. I am sure that individuals will have very differing views on these but it’s always worth considering whether any of the following are stopping you from keeping communication flowing smoothly.

1. Frowning – This is very unwelcoming.

2. Making a face or scowling – This can be an unconscious expression of disapproval or dislike. Try to maintain a neutral expression even if you don’t like what you hear.

3. A fake smile – This makes you seem unwelcoming and dishonest.

4. Avoiding eye contact – Eye contact shows you are paying attention. Avoiding eye contact could mean you don’t care about what is being said. It might also be a sign you are being dishonest, as in the phrase “he couldn’t look me in the eye”.

5. Staring too long – Excessive eye contact might make you seem aggressive or even rude. In Asian countries, it is considered disrespectful to look directly into the eyes of someone of high status.

6. Squinting – This is similar to frowning. It also indicates dislike.

7. Looking down/stooping – This can suggest disinterest, or arrogance. Staring at your feet and shuffling them can also suggest nervousness and the desire to get away.

8. Crossing your arms in front of your chest – This is very unwelcoming and can also be a sign of a lack of interest or a refusal to communicate.

9. Holding things in front of you – Holding your purse, a folder or coffee cup in front of you or close to your chest is like a barrier, making you seem aloof. If you can’t put them down, hold them to your side if you can.

10. Standing with your hands on your hips – This stance is one of aggression and bossiness, so it can close down communication before it ever really starts.

11. Fidgeting with a pen or your phone – These actions suggest you are really not paying attention to what is being said. It can also indicate impatience for the meeting to be at an end.

12. Checking your watch – This shows you are bored or under pressure and therefore not paying attention fully to what is being said. It also suggests impatience.

13. Leaning away – Leaning away suggests “standoffishness.”

14. Leaning too close – This can invade others’ personal space and make them feel uncomfortable.

15. Casual touches – This can suggest too much familiarity if you don’t know the other person well.

16. Shaking hands – This is accepted in the West but still avoided in Asian countries. A bow, or a prayer sign (wai) with hands pressed together at the level of the chest is more common there.

17. Using your left hand – This can be a problem in the Middle East, where this hand is seen as dirty and only used for lavatory purposes.

18. Leaning against something – This can make you look too relaxed.

19. Sitting with your legs crossed – This can also make you look too relaxed. It is frowned on in Asian countries.

20. Touching your face – Touching the face, especially the nose, is seen as a sign of lying.

21. Touching your hair – Fiddling with your hair seems to indicate boredom or nervousness.

If you have not assessed your own body language recently, it might be time to practice in a mirror, such as when you are speaking on the phone. Or, video yourself and assess your body language. You may have more bad habits than you think. If this is the case, consciously work towards eliminating them and see what a difference it can make to your level of success.

8 Myths about Body Language

Following my recent article about Body Language at Interviews I have had a number of conversations from which it is obvious that there still quite a few myths about Body Language and I thought it was worth taking a look at some of them so that you can avoid these “fake news” ideas. These myths about body language could be preventing you from communicating with others effectively, or picking up the often subtle clues that are important when dealing with people – such as in a tricky business negotiation, or a dispute with a friend or family member.

Here are eight myths to look out for:

1. A smile means the person is happy

It will usually mean that, but it could also mean they are confused, uncomfortable, or just being polite.

2. Liars avoid eye contact

Shy people do too! In fact, studies have shown that pathological liars often look straight at a person in order to make sure their lie is being accepted as truth.

3. Crossed arms always mean resistance or not being approachable

They can actually mean a lot of different things, ranging from “it’s cold” to mirroring because you are actually doing it yourself. It can also stop people from feeling too “exposed”, especially women, until they are able to relax into a situation.

4. Eye direction

The theory is that if a person looks to the right they are lying, and if they are looking to the left, they are telling the truth. There is really no set pattern. The only thing you can do is observe the person to try to gauge what is typical for them.

5. 93% of all our communication is body language

If that were true, we could watch foreign language films and understand them without subtitles. About half of our communication is influenced by body language, but words, tone and style are key. They should ideally match the body language, and vice versa.

6. You can’t practice your body language

This is false. The best public speakers assess themselves in a mirror or on video to see what bad habits they have so they can replace them with good ones. Good salespeople will do this as well to make sure that nothing they do will send an unspoken message that will blow the deal they have put so much effort into.

7. Fidgeting is a sign of nervousness

It might be, but it could also be pent-up energy from having to sit still for too long.

8. Body language is the same the world over

What is acceptable in the West might be completely offensive in the East, and vice versa. Handshakes are still uncommon in Asian countries compared with the bow. Nodding means yes in some countries and no in others. Learning the differences can make you a more successful communicator no matter where you go.