We all face tough conversations. The ones we ruminate about, the ones we avoid, the ones we have built up in our heads as worse than they are – causing us to overreact.  Over the years I’ve coached lots of people through how to have tough conversations, and work towards solutions.  Here are some tips to consider when faced with your next challenging conversation.

1. Separate fact from fiction – then describe the impact

Create two columns on a sheet of paper.  Title one column fact, the other column fiction.  As you think through what’s on your mind, be very descriptive of the situation.  As you describe what happened, these are frequently the facts.  As you interpret what happened, you are typically creating a “story” in your head.  These go in the fiction column.  

Then think through the impact of the facts.  What’s happening, or not happening, as a result of the facts you’ve identified.

2. Pick your mindset

How do you want to be as you engage in this conversation?  Do you want to be strong, gentle, curious, frustrated?  It’s almost a guarantee that your words and actions will follow your mindset.  Being purposeful in selecting your mindset helps manage your emotions.

My suggestion….assume positive intent on the other person’s part.  Very few people are intending to hurt us or do us wrong.  Whatever occurred, assume they did not intend to cause you grief.   

3. What’s the outcome?

Think through what agreements you’d like to make.  What do you want to offer?  What are you wanting to be different?  Be able to describe these things and suggest them during the conversation.

4. Plan your opening – and be brief

Do you want to start the conversation with a question – being curious and learning the other person’s perspective?  Or do you want to start the conversation sharing some of the facts and impacts.  One important point as you begin a difficult conversation – don’t go on too long without letting the other person speak.  Letting the other party talk helps to decrease potential defensiveness. 

Lastly, work towards agreements.  What do you both want?  What can you both agree to?  It may be helpful to take a break after an initial conversation and come back a few days later to share ideas and work on agreements.

Whatever approach you decide, having tough conversations well is a skill.  It takes planning and practice – and they do get easier over time. If you’re looking for help planning or practicing a difficult conversation, let me know! Robin@Perry.Coach