This is a guest post by Elaine Hirsch. Elaine is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and video games. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.
Most of these sorts of conversations evoke strong emotions, challenge beliefs, and may cause feelings of vulnerability.
You don’t need to earn a PhD online to practice strategic and thoughtful conversation, so instead of charging headlong into a delicate situation, make yourself familiar with some ways to help things go more smoothly.
Analyze and Clarify
First, you should ask yourself if you’re broaching a topic for a truly good reason. Is it a serious matter, or is it just a minor, petty conflict? Not every event or conflict has to be confronted, so learn to pick your battles. You also need to ask yourself, what outcome do you hope for? This will help you decide what to say and how you should say it.
Next, you need to check your emotions. It’s never a good idea to enter a discussion feeling emotionally charged. It will make things uncomfortable and overwhelming, or might lead to an argument that could totally destroy any chance at constructive conversation.
As always, remember that there’s always two sides to a story. Don’t assume you infallibly know what’s best for the other person or people involved. Nobody likes to feel they’re being condescended to or called incompetent.
If at any time you catch yourself overreacting, stop and think about why that may be. Identifying the cause of your upset may help you to frame the situation with greater clarity.
The Big Talk
To reiterate, one of the most important aspects of difficult conversations is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Consider how the other person might feel about the situation. Empathize with the other’s point of view and opinions beforehand if possible. This will help you to figure out how you should approach the impending discussion.
Take turns speaking in a mature and considerate way. Never interrupt, insert opinions where they’re not appropriate, raise your voice, or talk over the other person! Each individual’s input is valuable, and if you expect to come to any sort of meaningful conclusion, it must be respected.
Listen carefully, giving your full, undivided attention. Acknowledge what the other person has to say. If people feel you really care about what they’re saying, they are likely to be more open with you and receptive to what you have to say.
It’s easy to confuse acknowledgement for compliance, and important to avoid doing so. Just because someone acknowledges what you have to say doesn’t mean they’re going to come to your side of the fence.
Practice deep breathing before you begin talking. Breathing helps you focus, stay calm, and think rationally. The other person will probably appreciate it if you seem calmer, and it may make them feel calm. It makes things seem like they aren’t as delicate and tense as they might really be.
Last, don’t become defensive. Being defensive shuts out others, closes you off from constructive communication, and often leads to arguments or fights.
By being open, considerate, and calm, you should find that your difficult talk is a lot less difficult. These situations are never easy, but they are important challenges to meet in order to strengthen relationships and the ability to make tough decisions.
Most of the time, difficult conversations arise because both parties want to find a solution which will benefit them both mutually. Perhaps all those involved will come out of it knowing more about themselves and each other.