How to Make a Difficult Conversation Easier

Conversations can be risky at times. The more sensitive the topic, the more delicately we need to approach it while maintaining a truthful and honest demeanor . The subtle balance between being blunt and abrasive or being effectual is one that many are not equipped to navigate.
In my more than twenty years as a corporate trainer, one of the most consistent concerns I’ve encountered is regarding people’s ability to effectively communicate with one another. It’s a skill few are taught as young children but one that is critically essential in all relationships. Our choice of words, intonation, body language, and subliminal messages all contribute to the success or failure of our conversations. The more sensitive the topic the greater the challenge becomes. Informing my boss that I’m leaving the company may be a bit uncomfortable but feasible. However, if the boss is my grandfather who has employed our family for generations in the business, the exchange may be much more complex. Talking to my best friend about her drinking problem or confronting my neighbor about their loud late-night parties can all challenge my conversational capabilities. However, there are things we can do to ease the process of delicate dialogues and ensure greater success:

First, keep in mind that it is imperative to present your position in a non-threatening manner. The moment one’s defenses rise the conversation ceases to be productive.

Second, remember that the objective of such dialogue is not to prove the other party wrong or incompetent. It is an opportunity for both sides to share opposing points of view or facts with the intention of learning and growing. This must be done in such a way as to enable the other party to see things from a new perspective or perhaps something they may have inadvertently overlooked even if they continue to hold fast to their position.

Third, remain sensitive and thoughtful to the other person’s feelings, needs, opinions, beliefs, etc. Listen carefully for what to say/not say. How the other party reacts and responds to your choice of words, suggestions, and insights will enable you to decide what direction to take. Active listening enables you to better choose whether to reply (and how) or to remain silent.

Fourth, always validate the individual’s position and feelings, whether or not you understand or agree with them. Simply acknowledge that theirs are as legitimate as yours. A little sensitivity goes a long way.

Fifth, don’t lecture. Instead, ask thought-provoking questions which enable them to find solutions of their own volition.

Sixth, above all, create an environment of safety for the other party, one where acceptance and compassion reign; one in which they feel comfortable enough to speak freely and truthfully without fear of reprisal. In this way, both parties will have the opportunity to freely and honestly express themselves while maintaining the integrity of their relationship with one another as well as their own dignity.

While both parties may continue to hold fast to their beliefs, a prolific dialogue enables each to grow with new awareness and expanded their limited way of thinking to embrace new ideas and concepts.
And in doing so, are given the opportunity to develop a new found respect for one another. And that alone is worth the effort.

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