How to THRIVE through Difficult Conversations
“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things” – Henry Miller
When is the last time you had one of those heart-constricting, brain blushing conversations with someone with whom you were in conflict?
You know, the conversation after which you don’t sleep for nights because you can’t stop the anguishing over a misunderstanding or a full blown rupture of trust that fanned the flames of that difficult exchange…
I’ve been in that fretful conversation loop and I have helped hundreds of clients to learn how to have empowered conversations about difficult subjects, rather than stumble through these hard situations and then feel angst through the night over the misunderstandings that fed those exchanges.
Who do you see yourself in these kind of situations? Are you a ‘Pleaser’ who will appease? Or are you a ‘Braveheart’ who will take a stand?
It turns out, most of us tend to want to be pleasing, avoid difficult conversations and (to our detriment and to the detriment of our organizations), we undermine the level of care we are all capable of by not speaking up. How can we care for each other and build trust if we don’t talk through the things that are causing stress and emotional pain?
What this means is that we need to learn how to navigate our difficult conversations in order to get more positive outcomes. All of us can learn to invite ourselves to grow rather than withdraw or dig in by being positional.
It’s really hard though sometimes… have you noticed?
Staying stuck in a power struggle of any kind can be totally distracting, extremely stressful, and very possibly a little toxic for others. Especially when the negative stories start being rehearsed and recycled through the workplace, your home, and your community. From these kinds of power struggles, toxic triangles can arise where the human negativity bias takes us even deeper into the conflict zone. The power struggle deepens and loyalties divide you into the abyss.
Without powerful conversations, how will any of us get better in life? To take this point to the ridiculous, who will have that difficult conversation with Donald Trump? Is he really running for the U.S. presidency? Is there no one who is willing to bring their Inner Braveheart to that conversation?
We all can recondition ourselves by trying to approach the problem compassionately. Any misunderstanding that is painful, it is probably linked to an old negative belief that can be healed so that we start to heal grow stronger and wiser from our new experiences of navigating through these situations.
When entering a difficult conversation, what are the issues of importance to you? What is important to you about being understood in this conversation? Which of your values do you think, have been tromped on?
These powerful questions can be difficult to reflect on. When you feel challenged by someone, he or she has probably triggered a childhood irrational belief of yours…and like your 7-year-old self, this petulant child may show up. In that moment you may feel blind-sided and unable to think rationally.
So my advice to you is to step away from the situation.. and breathe..
Consider the Big Picture
Is what surfaces about you during theses difficult conversations a theme that has been showing up in other parts of your life?
I recall a client who was struggling at home because her husband had lost his job. Rather than appreciate her efforts and pay cheques, he became critical and blaming of her for her smallest peccadillos. The bullying she was experiencing at home then started to undermine her confidence in every aspect of her life.
When at work, she started making mistakes and withdrawing from those workmates with whom she otherwise loved collaborating. She came to see me because of the stress she was experiencing at work. But when she took a 360 degree view of her life, she quickly understood that in all parts of her life, she needed to start to invite difficult conversations rather than avoid them. She was already very compassionate for others, but somehow she wasn’t able to hold space for her own insights and to communicate her own needs and feelings in these conversations.
Good Questions to Ask Yourself When you are Having Difficult Conversations
What do you think might be the contextual stressors that may have ‘turned up stress’ in your life at work or at home?
When you think about the other person with whom you have been in a power struggle, what might be going on in his or her life that impacts his/her conducts?
Build Capacity – Exercise Your Compassion & Gain Understanding
Even things like time of the day, organizational changes at work, changes of location of your home can notch up stress and reactivity.
It can be helpful to also ask yourself “How important is this person/problem to me?”
Take a second to consider who and what you are emotionally tripped up on.
Is this a core relationship in your life? Asking yourself and answering this question can lead to giving you the choice to walk away from the conflict (often a healthy option) or bring your most compassionate self to the table to work things through.
Here are 6 Steps to THRIVE Through Your Next Difficult Conversation:
- T ake time out to prepare for the conversation.
Doing some physical exercise can boost your endorphin level and research shows that time in nature will boost mood.
Many of my clients find this can be a great way to brainstorm the problem, developing multiple options for resolution and collaboration. The more perspectives you can consider the problem from, the more ready you will be for the meeting.
You might want to try doing a compassion meditation to prepare:
Start by simply breathing in, breathing out.. notice your feelings in your body… acknowledge your feelings.
“I feel angry, misunderstood, dismissed…” Let those feelings be in your body… notice your shoulders, your stomach…breath in compassion.. notice any shifts in your shoulders or your stomach when you do.
Consider what you want to feel regarding the difficult conversation.
“May I have patience”
“May I have compassion”
“May I have understanding”…
Consider the person you are in the power struggle with.
Bring that person to mind.. try to recall the feelings of being with that person.
Then say to your self “May he/she have patience”
“May he/she have compassion”
“May he/she have understanding”..
Notice any changes in your body or breathing.. just notice and continue..
“May we have patience”
“May we have compassion”
“May we have understanding”
This compassion meditation can be expanded to your whole workplace, your whole family, your whole community
“May our whole organization have patience”
“May our whole organization have compassion”
“May our whole organization have understanding”
Kristen Neff provides some guided meditations:
- H ave a clear outcome in mind.
Imagine your relationship with this person in previous times when you have felt ease and connected in mutually held values and vision. So much research supports the benefit of positive mood state. See Barbara Friedrickson’s book Love 2.0
- R egulate your emotions.
If you approach the conversation when it still feels overwhelming, your capacity to understand the other person and to communicate clearly will diminish because you are still emotionally ‘flooded’.
Do some stacked breathing, tapping (TFT), or simply
s l o w down before you get together to talk.
By the way, did you know that when you have eye contact with someone, your brain releases dopamine (the hormone which improves your mood)?
So, when you are ready to go. Start positively with recalling (from step 2) how your relationship used to feel.
Try to address the issue with “I felt… when .. (the situation)”.
Any sentence that starts with “You” (when you are referring to the other person) will be a sure fire roadblock because the other person will feel judged and attacked rather than invited into collaboration.
One person should complete their thoughts and experience before the other completes their own.
Try to identify unmet needs and feelings as you listen. Sometimes in this process you may identify the core emotional drivers of conflict: fear, insecurity, or loss.
- I ntegrate the learning by sharing what you will take away from the conversation.
After you each take time to express your experience and describe what you need, ask for feedback about how helpful the conversation was for him/her.
What will he/she take away based on both your perspectives on what went down?
What will you do differently now as a result of your conversation? This stage of resolution has a huge benefit in building trust.
- V ulnerability is learned and practiced.
The more trust builds between you and the other person in the conversation from having these types difficult verbal exchanges , the stronger and more satisfying your relationship will become. Celebrate the capacity you both have shown.
- E xamine your growth.
What did you learn about yourself? What worked? What didn’t work? Is there something you need to follow up on tomorrow to continue the process?
How flexible are you generally? How will you transfer your learning from this powerful conversation? How grateful are you for other’s flexibility? How often do you reflect on your relationships? Would it be helpful to start a journal?
The client I mentioned earlier, started having difficult but productive and healthy conversations with her husband. Her conversation with him resulted in his own insight that he needed to learn to self regulate. It was a key reason he had been let go from his workplace. He now has a new job he loves. They are back to the relationship they know and love and my client continues to T H R I V E.
By Danna Faulds
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.