“I think you’re a great team member, you’ve really contributed a lot, and I like your company, but I have to tell you…” You’re not laying her off. You’re telling her something that’s not easy to say: you’re falling short, the way you work is getting in the way, you haven’t been listening. If you were in that person’s seat, you’d feel threatened, too.
The people who coined the term “difficult conversation” understood that the complexity of the conversation is a source of its difficulty. It is hard to listen – to take in – all the messages that are being communicated, and concealed, in conversations where emotions are high. It’s not just the other person’s emotions that distract and demand attention. Our emotions make their own noise. We can’t make the difficult conversation less complex, but we can simplify our approach.
That’s why my colleague Kande McDonald and I have created a two-part webinar on Four Steps to Transform Difficult Conversations. There’s plenty of signal in the noise. And those messages invite us to cross a threshold. On the other side, there’s less freaking out and more shared meaning.
Here’s one tip from our webinar, Stepping arcoss the Threshold.
Tip 1: Do less to do more
Most of us are doers, problem-solvers, and we have a bias for action at work. Don’t change a thing, except in difficult conversations. Instead, listen and restate what you heard empathetically. An example: “So you’re saying that I asked you take on a very big project and that I didn’t support you. That must have felt terrible (or isolating, or very risky).”
For those of you who have come to appreciate the value of mindfulness, think of this as a way of staying in the moment. You can’t change what happened, but you can acknowledge the other’s perception of it now. This is also how you build common understanding. And that is the raw material for knowing what to change or fix when the time comes. That time is not now.