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.

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