Struggle with Professional Challenges New York City

Having a Difficult Conversation

By George Marino CPC, CMMT January 6, 2021Difficult Conversation

It’s great to take courses in finance, marketing, and economics. But what is most essential at work and in life is managing and understanding our emotions so we can be better equipped to help others in business and life. In other words, what is your emotional literacy? What is your emotional intelligence? Unfortunately, most of us have not been trained in this way.

One of the most important skills in managing conflict is the ability to navigate difficult conversations. The first item to consider is that these conversations don’t really work through e-mail or texting, especially when a relationship is ending. Science has confirmed that direct personal meetings enhance the well-being of both people in a difficult conversation. Think back to when you have received a message that you were no longer needed. It is precisely in such a moment that you notice whether or not the person delivering the message is authentic. In delivering difficult messages, we need to take care of ourselves and the other person. Calling for a face-to-face meeting, even if on a platform like Zoom, will bolster the energy and well-being of both people in the conversation.

When relationships end in my personal life, I make every effort to be in the physical presence of the other person to specifically express my thanks for how they have helped me or to express the meaning of the relationship to me. I recommend that you consider doing the same whenever it is feasible. This is called “showing up.”

Think back to when you were on the receiving end of a good difficult conversation. What did the other person say to you? What was in their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language? In other words, what underlying messages were being communicated to you? How did this person make you feel? How did they follow up? You can do the same for a not-so-good difficult conversation by asking yourself these questions, including: Were there all sorts of delays and excuses to bring closure to the relationship? How did that make you feel? Can you notice differences between the two contrasting conversations?

I work with people who have experienced not-so-good difficult conversations and for those who want to develop better communication skills. What I find helpful in my professional work and life are intent and a desire to genuinely know people. You want to know what is going on inside them—the things that are unique about them—and be keenly aware that others have needs, aspirations, fears, and frustrations. You’ll ask about their lives and deeply listen to who they are rather than covertly dominating over them. You can do this because you do the same for yourself.

This type of listening is connecting at the heart level. We can hear truth much more so than we can think truth. In addition, you will want to have a mindset to more accurately engage with others at work and in life. In doing so, you are likely to practice the essence of compassion, wanting to understand the other by asking: What is really important to you? How can I be of assistance to you? Asking such questions will help you and the other person through a difficult conversation.

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