Even the savviest communicators get nervous when it’s time to have a difficult conversation with colleagues, friends, bosses, neighbors, or family members. But as author and lynda.com director of learning and development Britt Andreatta shares in her latest course, difficult conversations can actually be opportunities to build better relationships on more solid ground.
Every difficult conversation that ends successfully shares these four elements:
1. Buildup: This is where all difficult conversations begin: An issue starts to bother you. Perhaps it’s how a colleague talks down to you, or the way a client threatened to pull a contract on you at the last minute. Britt has a rule of three: When an issue surfaces three times, take notice, pay attention, and commit to working through it.
2. Reflection: In this phase, take a step back from the issue to examine why it bothers you. What does this issue cost you in stress, lost productivity, frustration, or disrespect? What is it that you’d like to have instead? In the case of the colleague above, it might be that this person’s behavior reminds you of an old boss. It triggers a bad association and makes you feel insignificant. This is a perfect time to get clear on what you’re feeling and why.
3. Conversation: Now that you have clarity, commit to sitting down for an open, two-way dialogue about the issue. Share the issue from your perspective, and give the other person the time to do the same. The goal is genuine listening with the intent to co-create a solution that works for both of you. In our example, it might be that your colleague has no idea she’s rubbing you the wrong way and simply means to come across confidently. Hear her out—and decide how you two can collaborate well in the future.
4. Follow-through: Co-creating a solution is only as good as the follow-through that makes it a reality. This is a good place to commit to the habits that will move you both forward, and to check in with each other to make sure you’re both feeling good about the progress. In our example, you might check in with your colleague every two weeks as the two of you start communicating differently.
Learn more about these four phases in this video from Having Difficult Conversations. And if you want to uncover more about your own emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and triggers, also check out Leading With Emotional Intelligence.