[Authored by Dr. Susan Williams, Professor of Management] Doug Stone, author of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Really Matters (Difficult Conversations) counsels us to “get things out into the open” and have those difficult conversations we’ve been putting off – the roommate who won’t clean up her share of the apartment, the employee who interrupts at every opportunity, or the person who plays loud music after midnight. He asserts that the fallout from people not having these conversations is evident all around us – failed management, poor employee morale, even horrific events like the Challenger disaster.
In his recent presentation at the Executive Learning Networks, part of the Scarlett Leadership Institute at Belmont University, Stone counseled participants to quiet “the voice in the head” and think about the other person’s point of view. Most of these failed conversations are based on our internal voice saying, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” He asked us to inquire of ourselves, for example, “I wonder why she’s doing that?” Assume you don’t know the other person’s motivation and don’t ascribe blame to them. Then you can look for solutions instead of blaming.
Getting clear with yourself about how you feel about certain behaviors is part of preparing for the difficult conversation. Ask yourself why this particular conversation is hard for you. Is it because you have made some assumptions about motivation, or because similar conversations have not gone well in the past?
The three parts of difficult conversations are: “what happened” which deals with the facts of the dialog; a “feelings” discussion that addresses the parties’ emotions; and an “identity” conversation that deals with how this discussion affects our perception of who we believe we are.
Bottom line, inquiring is more important than telling. Stone said, “It is hard to convince someone he is wrong if he feels he hasn’t been heard, so inquiring, actively listening, and really hearing are keys to addressing the issue.” Recognize that difficult conversations are a part of our lives. Search for solutions, not blame.