One of the more powerful tools that coaching can give is teaching you how to sit comfortably within a broad spectrum of emotions – even the ones that make us uncomfortable like irritation, hurt and anger. In the recent past I’ve had what’s called a “hard conversation” with a friend and at the end of it we both came out saying: whoa! that was intense, but thanks goodness we had that conversation!
For me, hard conversations have tended to deepen my respect for the other person and for myself. My strategy in the past was avoidance. I would take to having minimal contact with the person because of matters left unspoken. Even asking for a raise at work can be a hard conversation!
A hard conversation doesn’t have to be a negative thing and it doesn’t have to end badly. We tend to avoid hard conversations for a number of reasons: (1) afraid of “conflict”; (2) don’t think we can handle it, (3) don’t want to upset or anger the other person. For this reason things in relationships (be it friendships, intimate relationships or even with workmates) are left unsaid. And what goes unsaid can have a significant impact on what a relationship feels like. Without the art of mastering the hard conversation you can find yourself severing ties with people in a huff or worse, find yourself in a screaming match and saying things you really don’t mean. People have even left jobs rather than have a hard conversation with that challenging workmate.
To successfully have a hard conversation the first thing to learn is how to stay still even when you’re feeling uncomfortable. Even physiologically your body can tell that the situation is challenging (you tense up, your breathing changes, tightness in the solar plexus) so be aware of it and breathe through it – as its happening! Otherwise, the discomfort can be what triggers you to launch into a tirade.
Another key is really listening – even in that moment. It’s important to be able to respond to what the other person is actually saying rather than to the assumptions and voices in your head. Awareness of what is not being said is also important. Listening for what is NOT being said out loud is a skill. Emotional intelligence comes in handy here.
During a hard conversation you tend to use vocabulary that you don’t normally use in everyday conversation. Phrases like “what I’m hearing you say is…” and “it was not my intention to…” and “this is how I felt” (as opposed to “you made me feel X! or you’re accusing me of Y!). You may even have to stop the person from walking away (or from reluctantly ceding to your point of view for the sake of ending the discussion) in order to complete the conversation well.
If you’re lucky the other person can handle themselves in a hard conversation too, if not you’ll need to hold the space (keep the mercury from rising) for both your sakes, and that’s another skill altogether. I’ve been in this situation – the other person blew up and I had a choice. To let him have it, or keep it together. Thank goodness I did the latter because we keep bumping into each other now and we’re fine (more pleasant than having to duck for cover!)
Before going into a hard conversation it’s worthwhile to be clear about your intention. Your intention is your rudder. When the conversation is heading into rougher waters your intention can remind you to steer things back to where you want to go. Your intention should honour the other person. Going into a conversation with the intention of “winning” or “just getting what I want” can find you being the loser in the end.
Like with all things, when you do it once you fear it less and get better at it. Coming out of a hard conversation changes you for the better. It even lends a new depth to the relationship. Do you need to have a hard conversation with someone? Make the time to work on the best way to do that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.