5 Steps to Constructively Communicate in Difficult Conversations

 In Communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Rick Conlow

In all professional environments, conversations take place. Conversations can be effective or futile, positive or negative, argumentative, collaborative, or just blame difficult. Not everyone is an expert communicator, so what do you do when you need to have a tough conversation with an employee or co-worker, but you just don’t think you can do what difficult conversations require of you?

Well, as we know, communication is a skill. It’s about getting a message across accurately, while receiving the other’s intended message. A conversation includes the process of this exchange. Did you see that last word: exchange? This is, conveniently, what’s forgotten or abandoned in most conversations. It’s left out because letting another speak, when you have your mind made up, can be a really hard thing to do. Plus, in some cases, people believe that the simple act of letting another talk freely – somehow suggests that they are surrendering their view or admitting to being wrong. AND THIS IS WHY CONVERSATIONS ARE SO CHALLENGING. We assume that unless the person on the other end changes his or her mind and comes into agreement with us, well then, our conversation was ineffective. We associate conversation success with agreement, harmony and similarity. But, this is where we have it wrong.

Why do we do this? If you wanted pizza, and I felt like sushi – neither of us would have a “bad appetite,” we’d simply have specific appetites that don’t happen to be similar. If you preferred to bike, and I opted for the bus – neither of us would have the “wrong transportation,” we’d simply have the right transportation for our needs. So, why – when it comes any conversations, even difficult ones – do we think it ought to be any different? It’s not about you convincing me you’re right, or me standing ground until you admit you’re wrong – neither of these actions is all that advantageous for anyone. Instead, it’s about building a constructive conversation. Here’s the definition: Constructive-productive, valuable, beneficial, worthwhile.

5 Steps for Difficult but Constructive Conversations

Did you see that I said building a constructive conversation? It must be actively done – it can’t be assumed that it will just happen automatically. Now, when you decide that doing this is worth your while, here’s where you can take the reigns and run with it. For leaders this means leveraging your position positively by focusing on how to engage employees more effectively while communicating. For employees it means how can you influence others positively without the authority.

To build a constructive conversation in difficult situations, you need five things.

  • A goal and/or purpose. First, there must be a reason you’re meeting. Identify it. Explicitly.
  • A good setting. Don’t just meet anywhere, anytime, for any reason. Be intentional and thoughtful.
  • Willingness. Both parties must be open (to a degree) to have the conversation that needs to happen.
  • Respect. Regardless of feelings toward one another, each party should respect the other.
  • Time. Establish parameters and expectations for how long you will talk and when you will meet again.

Composer John Powell said it simply,  “Communication works for those who work at it.”

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Rick Conlow
Rick Conlow is the CEO & Founder of Rick Conlow International, a consulting, training and coaching firm. He has helped over 200 companies such as Target, Costco, Andersen Windows, Spectrum, Northern Power, Meijer, Carpet King, International Truck, John Deere, Lowes Financial, and Canadian Linen improve customer loyalty, increase sales and add profits. Rick has been a general manager, vice president, training director, program director, and national sales trainer. He has authored 22 books, and regularly speaks at conferences and to audiences of all sizes.
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