“The truth will set you free, but first it will [tick] you off.”—Anonymous.
Why does it seem that during this ostensibly joyous time of year we are more prone to have ‘difficult discussions?’
I suppose that in our personal lives it is simply due to the increased pressures we encounter during the holidays. In our professional lives, budgets are being finalized, employee reviews conducted, and many hard business decisions have to be made before the start of a new year.
Your humble blogger has certainly had his fair share of difficult conversations. After many years I am still not decided on which is worse, to initiate a difficult conversation or be on the receiving end.
I do know that I have learned, through experience, that there are right ways and wrong ways to initiate a ‘tough talk.’ I think some of my best learning has occurred on the receiving end of such a talk from someone who has taken the time to do it right.
We can’t predict entirely how someone will react, but among the most important things I have learned when initiating a difficult discussion include:
- Be honest. Obfuscation of the real intent of a discussion, even when the subject is a hard one, never helps. In fact, being honest shows respect for the person we are dealing with. We don’t need to hide a hard message behind false reasons just to be nice.
- Be forthright. Dancing around a subject never helps. It may improve your dancing, but in terms of having a productive discussion on a difficult subject can mislead and cause more confusion.
- Be timely. Timing is everything and when delivering tough news, it is best to be delivered as soon as it is appropriate to do so.
- Be open to feedback and have a listening heart. Remember we are talking about difficult discussions here and successful communication is a two-way street. We may not want to hear feedback, but we should count ourselves blessed if someone is willing to share their honest view point. While the outcome of the decision may still be the same, obtaining some measure of buy in can only help in a positive way.
Of course, I have had my share of conversations where I have been on the receiving end too. I know the feeling of my blood pressure rising, jaw clenching, and how that shuts down communication right away because my emotions get in the way of listening. What can we do to control our emotions during these discussions?
I found an interesting article written by Amy Gallo, contributing editor of the Harvard Business Review, appropriately titled “How to Control Your Emotions During a Difficult Conversation” (December 1, 2017). She suggests several things to help maneuver through those tough moments. I paraphrase here her suggestions. Read the full article here.
- Feeling that tenseness rising up through you? Take deep breaths and let the panic or tension subside as you center yourself and thoughts.
- Focus on your body. Sitting still can make your emotions build up rather than go away. If you can, get up and walk around a bit to release the tension in your body.
- Try saying a mantra. Sometimes just telling ourselves to ‘be calm,’ ‘focus,’ or as Ms. Gallo suggests “This isn’t about me,” “This will pass,” or “This is about the business” will help depersonalize the conversation.
- Acknowledge and label your feelings. I have heard this called ‘name it, claim it, dump it’ and, as Ms. Gallo says “When you put that space between these emotions and you, it’s easier to let them go — and not bury them or let them explode.”
- Take a break. If you feel things are going in a bad direction, and your emotions are heating up to a point that outcomes may not be constructive, simply take a break. Ask for a moment to leave the room, get a coffee, whatever. Sometimes just a short moment away from the discussion can clear the air and a constructive discussion continue.
Difficult conversations are inevitable. However, taking the time to do it right can make the difference been effective and ineffective communication.
A. Alliance Collection Agency, Inc. is a full service, licensed accounts receivable management and debt collection agency providing highly effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Founded in northern Illinois in 2005, we have been proudly improving the bottom-line on behalf of our business partners in and around Chicagoland for over 12 years.