Ah, difficult conversations. Those conversations we want to avoid, be it our neighbors’ noisy parties or the Team Members who seem to have lost their fire. We fear the consequences, we are afraid it will not go well, we often prefer “suffering in silence” rather than risk the conversation.
1. Remember, it’s not about the facts. We often assume that there is only one version of reality—ours. In truth, our perceptions, memories, and backgrounds all shape our personal version of reality that we carry around in our heads. Ask the person first how he or she sees the situation. Do so with a good heart, quietly, and non-confrontationally, without trying to trap him or her into an admission or to prove the person wrong. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
2. It’s really about emotions. The language of emotions and the language of logic are as dissimilar as French and English. Speaking English to someone who only speaks French is not so smart, is it?
Ethos, pathos, logos: Remember these three words, and it’s equally important to remember their order.
Ethos: establish trust by being trustworthy in deed and in action. Invest in those to whom you speak by truly, authentically seeking to understand the world from their viewpoint. Act ethically.
Pathos: create rapport by discussing the things you have common, the goals you share, the mutual dreams to which you both aspire.
Logos: once a bond has been established, it is much easier to turn together, as a team, to search for a solution that fits both your needs.
Ethos, pathos, logos: Three keys to the human heart.
Self-awareness is powerful. Acknowledge your emotions and the role they play. Expressing emotion is risky and often emotions leak out as judgments, characterizations (stereotypes), or unfounded or partially-founded attributions. While designating responsibility moving forward can be important, assigning blame for the past is frequently counterproductive. Get your heart right BEFORE you start the conversation. Practice with a third party if emotions are running high. If the other party does something that is a trigger for you, have your practice buddy repeat the trigger until you are de-sensitized.
3. Intentions: We tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. Furthermore, we assume we know their intentions. If we feel hurt, say, the person must have intended to hurt. We tend to think the best of ourselves, the worst of others. We assume that if we had no bad intentions, others have no right to be hurt.
Dale Carnegie advises us to “always appeal to the nobler motive” in his 1930s classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Most people think of themselves as good people, so reach out to the person they aspire to be, to the person they think they are. Keep an open mind, look for the best in others, assume good intent.