What stops us from starting that difficult conversation?

What stops us from starting that difficult conversation?
A brief exploration of some of the mental barriers.

I recently had to bring up a difficult topic with a colleague. Not just a workmate but a long term colleague who is more like a friend.
I was feeling awkward and embarrassed and put it off for a while. After worrying about it for a bit longer, I did finally bring up the topic and…… We had a really useful conversation and were able to move forward.
Probably, we all know the skills we need to use (if not see my website at www.jrkconsultants.co.uk and contact me) but I think the biggest issue is what stops us from starting that difficult conversation? What are the mental barriers stopping us from acting?
I want to share with you some of the issues we face and then give some tips on skills and techniques you can use in similar situations, when you need to have a difficult conversation.

What stops us from starting the conversation that needs to be started?
Most of the issue is, of course, in our own head – how we feel about raising the difficult topic.
Upon reflection I arrived at the following five questions that need answering.
1. Does this need saying at all?
2. If I wait for a while will someone else say something?
3. Will the problem go away?
4. Is this an important enough issue that it needs sorting out?
5. What is stopping ME from raising this?

I went through a mental checklist and answered my own questions.

1. Does this need saying at all?
- Yes, if it is bothering me this much then it really needs addressing!

2. If I wait for a while will someone else say something?
- I waited for someone else to say something – but they didn’t speak to Joan. They just moaned to me about Joan!

3. Will the problem go away?
- NO!! If it needs dealing with it is better to do it now! After my difficult conversation Joan said “I thought something was up with you because you seemed a bit down”. The learning point here is that the weight of the conversation I was dreading affected my behaviour. It’s like holding onto a big secret, it can be difficult to focus on anything else! Lots of people like the phrase “the elephant in the room” – an elephant is a very large animal and it is unusual to find one in your average meeting room! Therefore, you can’t ignore it.. but some people try!

4. Is this an important enough issue that it needs sorting out?
- It’s your call but if you are worrying about it and it is affecting your focus – then the answer is probably yes. You could focus on the implications, think of the short term, the medium term and long term.

5 What is stopping ME from raising this?
The difficult bit here is that we have, in our mind, the thought that it will upset them. The first important point is to prepare what we want to say. Approach the issue in a good Assertive way with a clear Win/Win in mind, then you have done everything you can to make sure it is acceptable to you and the other party.
Maybe we are worried about upsetting the other person? Well we need to use our Assertive skills, talk about your feelings and what you want. Look for a good opportunity to steer the topic into the conversation.
I was prepared and then the very issue came up in the conversation.
“Joan, I am glad you mentioned that, I really want to talk you about……. “

In the end the difficult conversation needs to take place, and if it has to be done make sure you do it well.
Follow the checklist above and if it really is a difficult conversation you need to have then make sure you have prepared. Run through the questions above and then prepare and rehearse so that you know exactly what you want to say. Remember you are talking adult to adult. You are raising an issue that is becoming a problem. You want to achieve a win/win that is acceptable to both sides.
Good luck, – let me know how you get on with your difficult conversation.
I hope you found this blog useful. Contact me for more ideas on this topic. If you have any suggestions for future blogs let me know.
Have a look at my website www.jrkconsultants.co.uk or email me on jrk@jrkconsultants.co.uk
**I have some Effective Presentation Skills workshops running in the Oxford area – email for more details.


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