Lockdown Lowdown: Having a Difficult Conversation Top Tips


There aren’t too many people who enjoy conflict. It is something that makes most of us feel uncomfortable. However, it is going to occur several times in your life. Sometimes it feels like it happens several times a day! And that is becoming more true as we live for even longer in lockdown, in close proximity and with no choice about distancing ourselves. It is no wonder we are struggling to keep our cool and have constructive, creative, calm conversations.

Usually conflict is about resources and respect. Some resources are scare and need to be fought for and/or someone is feeling disrespected because something in their value system has been violated. Before it gets to that point there are usually a series of earlier uncomfortable and difficult conversations to be had which would have stopped the final conflict from happening. It is those conversations that we are being particularly challenged by now. Those tough conversations when you and they try to give each other feedback instead of fights.

The secrets to success are preparation and practice. Don’t just pitch in — think and plan it first and then you are far more likely to have a better outcome.

1. Get all the facts.
Try to keep assumptions out of the equation. You’ll need to be a bit of a detective here as people won’t necessarily volunteer the information you need to handle the situation. If you make assumptions, you’ll end up having to apologize later when the facts become known.

2. Don’t strive to be liked.
While it is a nice feeling when people like you, when you need to have a tough conversation with someone, they likely won’t be as receptive as you hope. For instance, if you are faced with feeding back to someone with you that you find their behaviour intolerable, they aren’t going to be your friend for a while. Accept the fact that everyone won’t like you, all the time and move on.

3. Try to find a satisfactory solution wherever possible.
If you can think of one try to suggest a win-win solution and also ask the other person what would be a win-win for them. This depends on the situation, of course. Coming up with a win-win and some kind of compromise will show you are making an effort to do as much as you can in a tough situation.

4. Start the conversation with the good aspects of the situation.
When you find something good the person has done, you can use that as a conversation starter. Then, when it is time to share the difficult feedback and be more critical of the person’s behaviour, they will be more receptive.

5. Don’t put off the conversation.

If you let something go, you will lose some power when you finally get around to talking to the person. They will want to know why you waited so long and that can start a long justification from you — which will never solve the problem. Better just to come rout with it in a reflective, thoughtful. quieter way, showing how keen you are to find a solution together the easier it will be.

6. If the conversation gets heated, agree to meet again at a future time and reschedule it.
If things are really heated, and emotions are too high to even have a conversation, then you might want to consider rescheduling the conversation. It gives everybody involved time to calm down and think about the situation.

7. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
You need to approach the conversation with some level of empathy. How would you feel if someone were saying what you are planning to say? By doing this, you can be more sensitive to the needs of the other person. This increases the chance of the difficult conversation going smoothly.

These are general tips for helping you as you live together in states of tension and stress. Sometimes you will have to dig deep to find that part of you that really does want a good, win-win solution rather than the satisfaction of telling someone else what a bad person they are! Self righteousness can feel good at the time — but it seldom helps long term. Try doing that prep and practice before you raise an issue. It does help, a lot.

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