How to Have Difficult Conversations and Remain Connected
Difficult conversations are inevitable. There are times within our families when the stakes are high and we need to navigate the choppy waters of different opinions and high emotions to make a decision.
Neuroscience and High Level negotiations provides us with 5 Keys to make the most difficult conversations lighter and more importantly help you get to those all important decisions without conflict and heartache.
- Set Yourself up for success.
Don’t approach a difficult conversation if your own emotions are charged. I use to play over and over in my head why someone else was wrong or how they had made my life more difficult and wind myself up even before I sat down to discuss the issue. With this negative energy, there is no wonder why I failed miserably at having difficult conversations. Now, I take the time to deal with my emotions first and only approach the conversation when I know I can sit down and have a calm conversation that is focused on finding a solution that works for everyone.
- Key #2 Stephen Covey taught us to – Begin with the end in mind.
Now let’s be clear what we mean by this because I thought having people do what I wanted them to do or agree with me was the perfect end. No surprise here it isn’t. To begin with the end in mind think first of how you want the other person to feel during this conversation, how do you want to feel at the end of this conversation. If you know where you are going you can tell if you are on track as you go through the conversation. Do you want the other person to know they can trust you, that they are safe with you because you will not judge them? Your intentions will govern how you choose to show up and interact with your words, tone and energy.
- Create a safe space.
To be open and have full access to our rational minds we need to feel totally safe. Any interaction that is viewed as a threat triggers our primitive brain and leaves us in flight, fright or freeze. We enter survival mode quicker than our rational minds can react, which means we are blocked off from learning and connection is more difficult. What does this mean for difficult conversations:
- Look for symptoms that the other person isn’t feeling safe.
- Silence – if someone is just sitting totally disengaged that is a clear sign that they don’t feel safe in this conversation.
- Attempts to escape – Body language that suggestions that they are trying to remove themselves from the conversation, they may be turned away from you, looking everywhere else but at you or holding a closed posture.
- Sabotage – can be defined as any verbal strategy that attempts to convince, control or compel others to your point of view. It violates safety by trying to force meaning onto the other person. Controlling, labelling and attacking are sabotage related behaviours.
The key is not to get caught up in the content of a conversation but instead to look out for any of these signs and make it safe again by establishing mutual purpose, and mutual respect.
- Remember Your Perception is incomplete – The most amazing take away for me from learning about neuroscience is that my view of the world will never ever be the truth. It can’t be. The way our brain works prevents it. Your brain acts as a filter taking in all the information from your senses, choosing to filter out things that don’t match your previous experience. This is why several people can experience the same thing but each have a different take away. If you keep this in mind when having your conversation, it will leave you more open to understanding the other person’s perspective as it will help you have a broader view of the truth. Your goals should be to fill in more of the blanks by asking, “how do you see the world?”
- Synergise – This is another great Key I learnt from Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. We’ve all heard of win win, but usually this means that I give up some of what I want and you give up some of what you want so we can get along. To create synergy you start from understanding each others needs and design a third solution that you create together that meets the core needs of everyone involved. This process removes all trace of control and power struggle and instead empowers everyone involved as you work to create a solution together. Kids especially love it when you ask them to be part of the solution.
I’d like to tell you that I’m now a master at difficult conversations but that would not be the truth. The truth is I work at getting better at it each day because I know the health of my relationships the depth of my connections depends on my ability to master this skill. Now instead of approaching my conversation with the aim to win and be right, I focus solely on showing my love and kindness and creating solutions together. With kids sometimes this means we may have to try one solution and then revisit to create another solution, that’s ok because empowering them is part of the process. Remember this isn’t an overnight change, but with commitment and continued effort we can master these 5 steps.
- Set Yourself Up for Success
- Begin with the end in mind
- Create a Safe Space
- Remember your Perception is incomplete