4 Tips to overcome your next confrontational conversation

I want to talk to you about having difficult conversations. It’s something that creates a lot of pressure feelings in people. When they get into an argument, or a heated debate, or a difference of opinion, quite often they will lose their train of thought. Have you ever been there? You’re having a difficult conversation with someone. Suddenly, you know what you want to say, and you just kind of lose it. Then, when the argument’s over, what happens? You say to yourself, “Oh. Why didn’t I say that?” My goal is to try and help you get through those challenging conversations with a little bit of ease.

Consider this, I read some studies that said, only one out of twelve nurses, will actually speak up when a doctor is about to make a mistake.

Coincidentally, I used to work in the operating room, so I’ve seen this quite a bit. For example, the doctor’s about to make an incision or grab the wrong instrument, and the nurse doesn’t say anything because it’s confrontational.

What’s happening is the pressure or the fear is getting in the way. So, how do we get through that fear? How can I help you manage that pressure in a challenging conversation?

First, you have to ask yourself, ``What do I really want out of this conversation?”

In other words,

“What’s my outcome?” “ What am I trying to get done here?”

Second, you want to think about managing your state.

When you’re feeling that pressure, all of a sudden your mind is racing, your facial expressions are changing, your voice tone is changing and your hands are getting shaky. These are the symptoms of the pressure state. So, you need to notice, what state you are in.

Remember, state is a combination of how you think and how you feel. What controls your state is your body posture, your voice tone and the words you use. So, when you’re feeling the tension of a difficult conversation, pay attention to your body posture, your facial expressions, your tone, and your word choices.

Third, you want to ask yourself quality questions.

So, once your state is under control, go back to your questions, “What do I really want here?” “What do we really want here?” “What’s a mutually-beneficial outcome that will serve everybody?” When you ask yourself more resourceful questions, you will get more resourceful answers.

Finally, you want to make the other person feel safe.

A lot of times, during these conversations, you will self-regulate. You might say, “Hey. Listen. Can we take a time out?” “Can we back up for a second?” “I have a question.” In other words, you are trying to apply the first three steps but the other person still wants to beat you. They want to win. They want to punish you for this conversation, and you are still trying to be more resourceful but they just won’t relent. So, when you are noticing them trying to win or punish you, it’s a signal that they don’t feel safe in the conversation.

Your job is to try and make them feel safe. It’s not your fault. You didn’t do it. I understand that. In that moment you are simply taking responsibility for the moment. Now, you might be thinking, “Okay. How can I make them feel safe?

Well, here are some quick tips on, how do you make someone feel safe.

Start with empathy.

I read a great interpretation of empathy from Brené Brown. She takes it to higher level than just “putting yourself in their shoes,” Brene, asks, can you reflect back the thoughts and the feelings of the person you’re talking to?

It’s more than just saying, “I understand.” In a heated argument, a lot of times you might be tempted to say, “I understand.” Then, the person across from you will shoot back with a response like, “I can see you don’t understand” and they are totally infuriated. Leaving you completely confused and wondering, “What? I said I understand. What’s wrong with them?”

The reason behind the other person’s reaction is they don’t see and feel that you get it. You’re saying “I understand,” but you’re not demonstrating I understand. So, what Brené is saying is, “Can you reflect back the thoughts and the feelings, not just the words?”

Also, you want to speak to the highest probability of what they are thinking

You might say something like, “Hey. Listen. I get this is stressful for you and straining, and I’m really getting on your nerves.”

If you were to say something like that, the other person would likely think, “Oh. Okay. You are on my side.” It disarms them. And makes them feel safer with you.

In short, to make someone feel safe, reflect back their thoughts and feelings and speak to the highest probability of what they’re thinking. As you offer that, they will bring down their resistance, they will feel safer with you and you can get back to being in a better conversation.

Finally, there is one more point I would like to reinforce. A couple of researchers have shown that they can predict, with 90% accuracy, which couples will divorce. It’s a pretty bold claim. How can they make such a claim? And what does it have to do with difficult conversations.

They are saying that the number one reason why these couples divorce is their inability to have difficult or confrontational conversations.

The keys to actually getting through difficult conversations are:

  • figuring out, what is your outcome, what do you want from this conversation,
  • managing your state,
  • asking quality questions and
  • making the other person feel safe.

If you can get in the habit of doing those four things, the research shows it pulls you out of divorce. It helps you be able to speak up at a difficult time and really manage the situation, and it especially helps you find a way to win.

Calvin Strachan made the Find a Way to Win programs after becoming a leader in several multi-million dollar sales organizations ranging from: direct sales to pharmaceutical sales to personal development.

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