Holding a difficult conversation

Wasting your breath, harming a relationship, fraying your own and other people’s tempers and nerves unnecessarily … Ah, those difficult conversations that we’d all rather do without.

Unfortunately, good intentions don’t count when difficult conversations are involved. So that the discussion doesn’t start off on the wrong foot and go downhill from there, give some thought to the conversation beforehand. These four questions are especially helpful:

  1. What do I want the conversation to achieve and how do I want it to proceed?
  2. What, specifically, do I need the other person to understand and do as a result?
  3. How can I make my message palatable so the other person doesn’t tune out?
  4. How do I want the person to feel about me and my message once the conversation has ended?

When you are clear on those four questions, you can frame the discussion so that it proceeds cooperatively rather than confrontationally. Since the way you begin a conversation often determines how well people receive and accept your message, think carefully about your opening comments. You want them to guide the conversation towards the result you’re after.

Remember the WIFM factor (What’s In it For Me? factor) and include a WIFM as early as you can in the conversation, even in your opening comments. How will the other person benefit from acceding to your wishes?

Keep your words neutral, objective and positive. Those kind of words are more influential and persuasive than emotional, critical and negatively-loaded words and are much less likely to make the other person bristle. They also set a better ‘tone’ for the conversation.

One final word of advice: Without diminishing your meaning, keep your words as soft and sweet as you can in case you have to eat them!