How To Mentally-Prep Yourself To Have Difficult Conversations
How easy it is to navigate conflicts if mind-reading exists? It would be a gamer changer! No longer are we needed or expected to explain ourselves in length. No longer are we expected to have difficult, awkward and uncomfortable encounters with whom we have a conflict.
But we are no Taraji P. Henson from ‘What Men Want’ (if you know, you know)! Thus, in a world where things go wrong often, we will have to communicate our feelings and thoughts. Difficult conversations might be needed more than we anticipate sometimes. However, we can always mentally prepare ourselves for difficult conversations to ease the process. Here’s how.
1. Approach the conversation mindfully.
Approaching a difficult conversation mindfully means that we step in with a clear purpose as well as a constructive frame.
Purpose or intent for the conversation serves as an anchor. Without clearly determining what you are planning to achieve, let it be a solution or closure, you may not know how to begin or carry on the conversation. As a result, it may even escalate into something that will be much harder to deal with later such as an argument or fight. Some examples of purposes are ‘I want to understand why she/he might have said or done that’. Or ‘I want to figure out a solution for this conflict’. Or ‘How does my counterpart see this issue?’.
However, sometimes our need to want to confront might not have any purposeful intents but to just give a piece of our mind to somebody. Or after taking some time to process what has happened, it was not the other person’s fault, to begin with, but ours. In such cases, having a difficult conversation may not be necessary or needed. For instance, in the former situation, it may turn into a screaming contest of finding faults rather than problem-solving. In the latter situation, the work done should be internal so such behaviour will not be repeated on our side.
Constructively frame it
Moreover, when the purpose/intent of the difficult conversation is established, you must frame the conversation constructively. Instead of it being about pointing out all the mistakes your colleague made, you may constructively frame it as you trying to help her address and improve her work. Instead of it being about a disagreement, you may constructively frame it as you and your counterpart deepen your understanding of the situation at hand. Doing so allows you to approach the difficult conversation in a positive manner that can yield more positive outcomes.
For further reading, check out this article on how to have more meaningful conversations with others!
2. Take into account the opposing perspective.
We are all very different people after all. Everyone including those from our own family is a different person. They may have different belief systems, values, life experiences, skills or even coping mechanisms. Sometimes when conflicts arise, we are so hyper-focused on how it made us feel or how it might have hurt us. We completely forget to take into account the opposing perspective. What was my dad thinking when he said that I should pursue chemical engineering instead of psychology which I disagreed with? What was my friend thinking when she dismissed my feelings when I was talking to her about my hard day?
The chances are they might have a perfect justification that we might never know or understand unless we try to take into account their views. Maybe my dad, who is a son of a rubber taper, had very few career choices growing up. And sometimes growing up in situations like that you might be trained to pick a path that will most benefit you and provide you stability in the future. Instead of what is fulfilling and aligning with your passion. Or maybe my friend has been struggling with social anxiety. She was more concerned with feeling not anxious in public instead of being empathetic when I was speaking to her. You will never know if you don’t give them space or a chance to explain it.
Mentally prepare yourself for the conversation to be about both of you instead of JUST you. Prepare questions that will prompt them to speak about how they see it. Doing so, you will carry on the conversation with the intent to uncover how they have seen and judged the same situation differently.
3. Explore and express your emotions.
Amy Gallo says in her Harvard Business Review article on ‘How to Mentally Prepare for a Difficult Conversation’, one has to vent before a difficult conversation. Usually, nothing positive is associated with complaining or venting. However, she makes a point that suppressing your emotions instead of expressing them can lead to negative results. Exploring and expressing our emotions before a difficult conversation can benefit us in two ways.
It facilitates the difficult conversation.
Imagine you had a major fallout with a colleague. You see a need for you to see this through because, given the nature of your work, you will work a lot more in the future with this person. However, the major fallout has caused multiple difficult feelings to arise in you. Feelings of being betrayed, backstabbed or even anger.
When we don’t identify what we are exactly feeling or how the situation is triggering for us, things might more likely go sideways when engaged in such conversation. Feelings that can easily morph into judgement as Lauren Florko of Psychology Today puts it. This leads to you accusing the other person of how they have harmed or hurt you instead of engaging in a fruitful conversation.
It doesn’t get unconsciously expressed in wrong situations.
Recall how sometimes we project our anger at someone, more likely a spouse or family member when we had a hard day at work when they have done nothing wrong? “If you don’t express your emotions, they’re likely to show up elsewhere”, says Amy Gallo. This transcends beyond having a difficult conversation into our daily lives when we have left our emotions unaddressed and unexpressed. It can interfere with our other relationships.
Thus, venting comes in handy to address the emotions and get them out of the way to keep us open for a fruitful conversation. It also prevents it from getting expressed in the wrong situations. She reminds us to be selective to whom we vent. It is always a better choice to find someone who asks helpful questions and who is calm instead of riling us up.
Difficult conversations are necessary and unavoidable. Running away from it doesn’t help as much as we think it does. However, we can always mentally prepare ourselves to ease the process by approaching it mindfully, being empathetic by taking into account how our counterpart sees it as well as exploring and expressing our emotions.