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Difficult Conversations

June 02, 2022

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Whether y'all need to have a challenging conversation with headmates, or with folk outside your& body — it's far too easy to flub, be awkward, shy away from the conversation altogether "just in case", to piss someone off, or accidentally hurt someone. Challenging conversations are a part of life.

In addition to the fact that authentic communication requires listening and understanding, it also helps when everyone participating in a conversation is both communicating (listening) and broadcasting (sending messages) effectively. With the tips below, y'all can better navigate difficult conversations.

We can't guarantee success of course, but these strategies and frameworks will help send messages that can be heard more accurately and improve the chance that y'all can broadcast a message that avoids miscommunication.

Using "I" Language

You-language can be unintentionally taken as assumptions, shaming, blaming, criticizing, accusations, and so on. We are not mind-readers, we don't know what is going on in someone else's mind or heart, etc. When we keep our statements entirely subjective, we're speaking from a position of our own power & control, within our own boundaries, and from a position of authority — without crossing boundaries, without giving away power & control, and without making assumptions.

If I say I think something or I feel something, the other person is in a position of listening &/or empathizing, rather than feeling attacked, criticized, or confronted.

Consider the difference between "You hurt me." and "I feel hurt." It may seem like semantics at first — but the you statement implies intent and action and invites the other person to be defensive or apologetic — where the I statement is a simple incontestable fact and invites listening and compassion.

More about I statements:

Some ground rules for engaging in difficult conversations

I-statements already can make a huge difference in how conversations go. It's even better if everyone in the conversation is engaging with the same basic rules in place. You can use these guidelines alone, but even better to share and maybe even discuss whether these work for y'all. These are 4 guidelines (and a tip) for engaging in difficult conversations with others — but if you share them and build in that it's new for both sides, that people are flawed & make mistakes, and add an additional guideline to be compassionate and gentle with each other, we bet everything will go much smoother.

Skills covered:

  1. Acknowledge your own responsibility in the situation
  2. Make sure there's a goal or desired outcome for the conversation and remind yourself of it to stay on track
  3. Listen to & validate the other person's feelings
  4. Restate the outcome

Background skills for avoiding conflict & handling conflict better

This is a good video overall on attitudes to bring to difficult conversations, and how language can play into challenging conversations. These are skills in both listening & wording that are pretty easy to master. She's corny as heck, but it grew on us as we stuck with it. Maybe it will grow on you too. It's easy enough for schoolkids to understand, a little rushed perhaps, but important enough for every adult to listen to.

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