Difficult conversations – we abhor them and get very good at avoiding them.  I know you can relate because you are human as am I.  But how much does this cost us personally, professionally and our organizations?  The workshops that teach the principles seem so simple, yet the application of the skills can go sideways.  We’ve all been there, haven’t we? 

I just got off the phone from a rich coaching conversation with a high-potential, highly skilled professional who is trying to “up their game” as a young leader.  This person’s company has hired me to assist this individual and each call has come back to the same thing; the avoidance of addressing difficult issues with staff and colleagues.  I sensed this person’s unexpressed awareness of the risk attached to addressing the issue and preferred that each would just go away. 

I listened closely and heard a positional approach developing as feelings of frustration were stirring deep.  A staircase of frustration was being climbed and I could hear “lizard brain” was close by.  That’s the fight or flight response, a natural protective mechanism for survival when we sense danger.  I heard an elevated level of defensiveness.

I was curious what the ideal outcome looked like and heard that acknowledgement would be appreciated as well as the desire for a mutually satisfactory solution.   To address this, I offered using words to minimize defensiveness such as “I’m curious and I would like to understand….”  and, in relation to the issue, something like “I feel like I’m hearing a dual message about….and I am confused.”  And then to ask open-ended questions to explore more about the other person’s needs. 

Learning to “go to the heat”, the hard stuff, is also where the solution often exists.  Next time, you want to avoid a difficult conversation, breathe, stay calm, explore needs, ask open-ended questions.  The solution may be perfect or it may not but it will potentially be better than avoiding.  But, then again, only you can decide depending on the situation you face. 

Photo credit: Designed by Katemangostar / Freepik

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