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Nobody likes to have to have the “hard conversations”, whether it is in your personal life or in your work life. Maybe it’s time to break up with someone you’ve been dating, time to reprimand an employee for too long of lunch breaks. It could be that you need to report some uncomfortable numbers to a superior.

Whatever you have got on your plate, there are a few key items that will help the conversation go a bit more smoothly. Here are the 6 things to do for approaching these tough conversations with the people around you.

  1. Make it safe to talk
  2. Listen
  3. Adopt the “Yes, And…” Stance
  4. Learn to Recognize Stories: Separate Impact and Intent
  5. Use “I” Messages
  6. Focus on contribution, not blame

Number One: Making it safe to talk

A safe conversation is one in which both parties feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings without negative ramifications and without feeling threatened. To make a conversation safe:

  • Embrace a mutual purpose. You have to care about the interests of others as well as your own.
  • Offer mutual respect. The instant someone perceives disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the original purpose – it is now about defending dignity.

Number Two: Listen!

“Seek first to understand then to be understood” is a phrase that should never be lost. Because we have differing perceptions, and we make assumptions about another’s intent, we have to get ourselves in a place where we can listen and really hear how the other person sees a situation, what his/her true intentions are.

Good listening in a conflict situation requires an open and honest curiosity about the other person, and a willingness and ability to keep the spotlight on them.

Number Three: Adopt the “Yes, and…” Stance

The essence of the “yes, and…” concept is the validation that both your view of the situation and that of another person, have value and you do not have to choose which one is right. You can embrace both and then work at understanding the other person’s point of view.

The critical component is that you allow yourself to express your view and listen to the other person’s view as well. Once you have reached this stage, you can say: “Now that we really understand each other, what’s a good way to resolve this problem?”

Number Four: Learn to Recognize your Stories to Separate Impact and Intent

We tell ourselves stories when we add meaning to another’s behavior without checking if our conclusions are right. Often these stories silently and repetitively play in our heads.

In conversation, you can share what you observed the other do or say (actions), how that felt (the impact), and your assumption about intentions. It is important to label the assumption as just that – an assumption or guess that is open to revision.

Number Five: Use “I” Messages

Statements that start with “you” sound accusatory and blaming. They typically evoke a defensive response in the person who hears it. Sentences that start with “I” are less inflammatory and they keep responsibility for what is expressed with the person doing the speaking.

Number Six: Focus on Contribution, NOT Blame

Contribution asks, “How did we each contribute to this problem or conflict that we are experiencing?” The purpose of asking this question and determining contribution is to do something different in the future – let’s not repeat whatever we did or did not do that got us into this conflict/problem. Let’s learn about each other and how we work together to be more productive and healthier the next time.

Good luck with your crucial conversations!