You need to understand what people are thinking and feeling, but not saying.
Every difficult conversation is really a mix of three conversations:
- What Happened: These are disagreements about what happened or should have happened. Who said/did what? Who is to blame? Who’s responsibility was it to catch the error?
- The Feelings Conversation: Are my feelings valid? Should I acknowledge or deny them? What if the other person is or will get angry/upset?
- The Identity Conversation: Out internal conversation on what the situation means (questioning our own competence, are we worthy of love, etc).
The conversation will be difficult - that is a reality. We can, however, change our response.
We need to:
- Explore the information the other person has or lacks.
- Manage our feelings constructively (not hide them or let them loose).
- Explore the identity issues that are at stake for both parties.
The What Happened Conversation
The Truth Assumption
We often fail to question one crucial assumption: “I am right and you are wrong.”
The thing is: Most difficult conversations are not about what is right or what the facts are. They are about conflicting emotions, perceptions, interpretations, etc. Example: Deciding which child rearing philosophy to go with. It is not about which is right, it is about which we will follow.
It is not about what is true, but what is important.
The Intention Invention
Hints and claims are made about the other party’s intentions. We assume we know the other’s intentions when we do not. Often, when in doubt, we default to “bad”.
The Blame Frame
Talking about blame is usually a distraction from the real issue.
The Feelings Conversation
Strong feelings will arise. How should you handle them? We respond by trying to remain rational. But difficult conversations don’t just involve feelings. They are by definition about feelings. Feelings cannot take a back seat.
If you “solve” the problem without talking about the feelings, you have not solved it. There are a few cases where you shouldn’t talk about the feelings, but in general you need to acknowledge them.
The Identity Conversation
What are you saying to yourself about yourself?
Keeping Your Balance
When you ponder over the implications of the conversation for your self-image, you may begin to lose your balance.
Moving Toward A Learning Conversation
Often our initial purpose for having a conversation is to prove a point, to rant, or to get others to do what we want. All are part of “delivering a message”. You need to shift away from this intent.