As I wrote in the initial post in this series, I am in the midst of examining my own playbook for navigating challenging conversations. Such skills have never been more important, at least in my lifetime. And while that statement fairly opens me up to accusations of tempocentrism, I happen to believe it to be true. We have more access and connection to each other, and more access to information and news (legitimate and otherwise) than at any other point in human history, and we are living in a society that is becoming more diverse and divided every day. Good communication is always required for successful progress, especially in a highly divided environment… so we are going to need to be good at this if progress is going to happen.
So, here are some additional thoughts on tools and skills that will help you navigate your way through a challenging conversation.
1. Stay calm, especially when the other person isn’t. Meeting emotion with emotion generally doesn’t work very well when you are trying to change someone’s mind on a big topic. There are exceptions to everything (one of my basic rules of life), so if the topic is highly important to you, showing a little emotion is absolutely OK. You are human, after all. But just make sure that your emotion is dominating the exchange. Be human, but be in control of your emotion.
2. Make it clear you have good intentions. The human mind is much more open to the person who is trying to help, rather than the person who is trying to hurt. Make it clear you are trying to help, and that is a form of credibility that needs to be built up every day, not just with a few words before you launch into a challenging conversation.
3. Provide solutions, whenever possible. Don’t just be a complainer, or the person who points out the mistake. Bring a solution to the conversation. Bring a better way. The person who always complains or always nit picks someone else’s work, but never has a better idea, is the person that no one listens to.
My final, macro point on this entire series is this… if you want to be good at navigating challenging conversations, you have to think about your relationships with people every single day. Every day, you are saving up or spending down your credibility account. And if, on a consistent basis, people see you as a person with great intentions, who has their back, who is a great colleague and teammate, then when the time comes for the challenging conversation you will bring all that credibility into the room with you. And your chances for success go up exponentially. Navigating a challenging conversation is not just about carefully chosen words and tactics in the moment. It is about your entire approach to relationships, at work and at home.
Good communication skills in general, and the ability to navigate challenging conversations in general, have never been more important than they are right now. These skills are not a “nice to have.” They are a “must have.” We need to be good at this.
Have a great day.
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