How to have a difficult conversation


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At some point, we all need to have difficult conversations. Some people actively shy away from it wanting to avoid confrontation, others don’t have any such concern and don’t delay. Whether it’s at home or at work, and irrespective of your personal style, here are a few considerations that will help you structure your conversation and aid toward a positive experience for both parties.

The ‘OK corral model’, based on Transactional Analysis describes a set of fundamental attitudes and beliefs which affect the way we see and respond to others. The model is concerned with two basic views which you will operate to when dealing with another person.

Before a difficult conversation ask yourself if you’re ok. If you’re not and can’t get yourself into a positive state, then the conversation must wait. If you are ok, then you need to check how you view the other person. For example, do you believe they are essentially decent and have a contribution to make, or are you going in already thinking they’re wrong and you’re right?

Only once you’ve identified you’re ok and they’re ok you can proceed. Following this four-step structure helps to remove emotion and keep you on track.

  1. State the facts

Be specific. By stating what happened as it happened no one can argue with that. Don’t unnecessarily elaborate, simply give an outline of the situation as it happened.

  1. State your feelings

Be brave. Explain how the action made you feel. Be genuine and don’t exaggerate for effect. Remember that no one can argue with how you’re saying something made you feel.

  1. State your thoughts

Be concise. Describe what this situation makes you think and what it told you. This should help the other person understand more about where you are coming from.

  1. State your preferred course of action

Be clear. Describe how you would prefer things to be handled next time.

For example

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week you scheduled last-minute ‘catch-up’ meetings at 9 am and it’s making me feel as though you don’t trust me and that you are checking I am up and working. I think that because you never did that when we were in the office. I also think that we can find a better way to check-in with each other. Rather than last-minute requests can we agree and schedule our catchups so we both know when we are due to check-in?

Maintain your position in the ‘OK corral model’ of ‘I’m ok and you’re ok’. Keep your expectations of the other person high and by showing positive regard (respect for the other) and genuineness – this high expectation is more likely to be met.

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