The following tips are based on my experience as an accredited mediator (which is like facilitating a DC with 2 parties) and also from a 5-day training course at Harvard Uni (I attended Harvard in Boston 2019 pre-COVID) and the corresponding book: Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most (Stone, Patton & Heen).
TIP 1: Be mindful on how you start the conversation.
Most people begin by making the other person the problem – which is likely to create a defensive response.
Instead of starting with ‘I’d like to talk to you about your lateness to meetings’,
start with …
‘I’d like to talk to you about meeting times and make sure we are on the same page.’
TIP 2: Be aware of the tendency to go into a difficult conversation thinking you are right or know all the important information.
If you do, you will appear closed to viewing the situation from the other person’s perspective. This again will create defensiveness and potentially provoke an adversarial reaction in the other person.
TIP 3: Be clear on your purpose before going into the conversation.
If your purpose is to try to persuade, trick or force the other – then the conversation is unlikely to go well. Again, it will create a defensive response in the other person. Harvard recommends instead that your initial purpose firstly, is to understand their perspective, the impact and what they see is important. Then it is about you sharing the same. Once you both understand where each other is coming from then it is about finding mutual solutions or agreements that are going to work for both sides.
TIP 4: Be able to manage your emotions in the conversation!
This is a challenging one as this needs to be done in the moment – during the conversation. It will help being clear prior to the conversation on what your intent is and how the situation has impacted you. It is also important to prepare your openness to hearing their experience and being clear (+ constructive) about how you will express any emotions that arise during the conversation.
There is lots more to these difficult conversations than we often think, including how to manage challenging behaviours during the conversation (e.g. diverting the topic, blaming, escalating, shutting down, etc.). Doing them well can create connection and build understanding, doing them poorly can result in increased conflict and further divide.
If you want to learn a great model + increase your confidence in having difficult conversations, then join me at my next open training. Alternatively, I run this interactive and engaging training for staff, leaders and teams as an in-house training.
Enjoy your conflict!