Difficult Conversations Part One: Pause and Plan

Difficult conversations can be, well, difficult. Either, something bad has already happened or there will be hurt feelings to come as a result of the conversation. Whether it’s personal or professional, when something delicate has to be discussed, it will go a whole lot better with some planning.

Think about it. If we say the first thing that pops in our head after something upsets us, it’s usually not pretty. The things we think about the other person when we’re mad at them usually aren’t nice and if we come right out and say them, we’ll probably make things worse. Assuming it’s not an emergency, give yourself some time to think about how you want to approach the situation before you do.

First, consider why you want to have the conversation. Is it with someone who is important to you? Is there something you need to get off your chest because you want to keep the relationship on good ground? Do you need to apologize for something you did? These are all good reasons for asking someone to talk with you. But, before you do, spend some time trying to narrow down your reasoning and your goal.

If you’re motivation is more like you’re mad and you want them to feel bad, too, or you didn’t get the last word in and now you want to, or you just like yelling at people, then, I recommend spending some more time considering big picture goals for yourself and how you want to be in the world.

But if the hope is to improve things, then I recommend aiming for a certain objective. When you have a goal in mind, it will help keep the conversation on track. If starts to get off track, you can remind yourself of your original point (write it down ahead of time) and work to get back to it. Try to avoid “kitchen sink”-ing it, where you or they start throwing into the discussion all kinds of other issues that may or may not be relevant. (Click here for more guidance on having an organized conversation.)

Second, aim for a good time to have the conversation. This is after you’ve taken time to get clear with yourself and you’ve asked them for their attention and they’ve said “Yes, I have time to talk right now.” Don’t just jump into a tricky conversation without checking to make sure you have their attention and permission. By doing it this way, they have agreed to participate and will be more committed to the conversation than if they really don’t have time for it at that moment.

Of course, we can’t control how others will react to us so this is no guarantee that everything will be unicorns and rainbows after you talk. But, we can control how we act and I believe we have a responsibility to try our best, particularly in relationships that are important to us. So, if you care about the relationship, take time to plan with the intention of keeping it good.

Good luck!