19 December, 2017
Need to have a difficult conversation? (But don’t know how?)
At some point in life you’re going to have difficult conversations, on a personal level or in a business setting. For some people, having those conversations in a business context creates particular anxiety, maybe that’s because we feel our livelihood depends on those conversations or maybe it’s for some other reason. Whether you need to have that disagreement with your line manager or with a customer who doesn’t trust your judgement yet, we hope the following will help you come to this from a calm and collected place.
Disagreement isn’t the problem.
How about that for a good place to start? It’s okay to disagree! In fact what you’ll find, from anyone who truly wants the best for their company, is that they want to trust the people they work with and who advise them. As a freelancer or business owner one of the most important elements of the relationship you have with your clients will be whether or not they trust you because they know there are things they aren’t aware of, don’t understand and don’t like. What often creates a problem however is not the disagreement itself but how we go about it and that requires us to begin by looking at our intent.
What’s your intention?
This is probably the singularly most important thing to look at before you go into a meeting or discussion were you plan to disagree with others, or where you’re making a case for something and you think others will disagree with you.
At the end of the day you need to be completely honest with yourself, are you about to make your claim in the best interest of your client (to move towards a shared goal), or are you really thinking selfishly about what would suit you better personally? If you’re really coming to the conversation from a place of genuine desire to help and make others lives or their business better, everything else you do will be built on top of that and, to mix metaphors, it will be a guiding light to everything else you say and do.
So be honest, why are you about to disagree?
Tone is one of the first ways we notice another persons intent. In fact it has been said that how a person says something IS what they’re saying. So listen to yourself when you talk to others, think about how you might sound to others and how you might be perceived when you say something. If you’ve already answered the question of intent for yourself, then it will be much easier for you to remain calm and not start to
It’s easy to point out the other persons inadequacy.
“You never read my reports.”
“You always forget to respond in time.”
But this kind of attacking stance almost always ends up with the other person putting up their defences or attacking back. The last thing they want to do now is listen to you, even if what you’re saying is helpful or accurate.
Maybe you could try,
“Is there anything I can do to make the reports easier to read?”
“What can we do to help make our decision making quicker?”
Of course there are times when someone should be held accountable for their actions but in many situations “you” statements often end up in an unhelpful argument. That’s because most people don’t like being judged or told what to do, so when we accusation language it’s easy to arouse feelings of resentment and defensiveness in others.
Don’t get personal.
Going hand in hand with not accusing is the importance of not getting personal. It’s easy to make “low blows” that undermine or intimidate the other person. But your aim and focus should remain on the desired outcome you are debating and not what the other person has done (or not done).
See if you can stay focused on facts, not personalities. And even if you find the other person gets personal, remember you don’t need to join in that way of doing things. Retaliation will only lead to more chance of the relationship breaking down completely.
One of the strongest positions you can take is to have already done all your research and preparation in advance. This means you can make your case based on the facts. Hopefully, if you have your client’s best interest at heart you’ll be showing them clearly why the way you think things should be done will positively effect their business. It’s hard to argue with someone when they’re showing you the best way to achieve the thing you say you want for your business.
So for instance if you think direct mail or print advertising is not as good for the business as inbound marketing and sales, start the conversation with an assessment of what the positive changes will be with one approach in comparison to the other.
Assume best intent.
Finally, if you’re running your own business, think about the culture you want to create as you grow. Think about how you’ll be the leader of that way of doing things. If you can, come to discussions, meetings, and relationships assuming the best in your fellow colleagues, don’t bring negative intent and anger. When you do this, you’ll be open, engaged and interested in what the other person has to say but you will also be less threatening or divisive yourself which will enable you to come into difficult situations from a place of mutual respect and kindness. You might even find that these are no longer difficult situations.
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