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5 Key Tools For Navigating Difficult Conversations

By Dr. Enin Rudel, Senior Consultant at IBIS

After the need for entering into a potentially difficult conversation has been identified, where do we go from there? What steps might one take to facilitate the conversation? Fortunately, there are several strategies available to us that help us hold difficult conversations.

In the spirit of Pride month, and the wonderful themes of inclusivity that tend to surface during this time of year, I offer a few strategies and best practices for helping to reach places of shared understanding.

1. Assess how you feel at the moment. A successful outcome depends upon how you approach the conversation. Are you nervous? Apprehensive? Angry or frustrated? Are there a set of assumptions that are framing your perspective? We carry our emotions with us into every interaction that we engage in. It is important for us to understand what is going on for us emotionally at that moment.

2. Extend this same level of consideration to whomever we are looking to engage in conversation. Simply pausing long enough to pose questions like, “What might be going on for the other person?” can create an opportunity to gain insight into their perspective.

3. Come back to the center. As conversations can often morph into debates or even arguments, it is important that an effort be made to acknowledge when the conversation has gone off the rails. Simply stating, “I understand that what you are saying is important and deserves consideration and I am happy to talk it through with you…however, I am wondering if for the moment, we can return to the initial point of the conversation?”

Acknowledgments of this nature help whomever we are engaging with to feel heard in the moment, while also helping them understand that the conversation has gone off track. It can be difficult to not take verbal attacks personally, especially when we are emotionally charged. A commitment to self-awareness is key. Our energies may be better spent helping our dialogue back to the center.

4. Recognize that there are multiple points of view. At the core of most conversations lies our espoused values, beliefs, and/or our unique perspectives. What we say in those moments is firmly rooted in our own espoused values. Though our viewpoint may feel clear, even obvious, to us, it is important to understand that there may also be alternative ways to view the situation. Thus, we must resist the urge to assume that our point of view is the correct one. It may not be an either-or. Instead, I would encourage the idea of a both/and…as in there may be no clear right or wrong. It is a collective willingness to enter into the conversation with the point of reaching a shared understanding that often makes the difference.

5. Practice the conversation. I always encourage that one mentally practices the conversation before entering into it.

What is the ultimate goal of entering into the conversation?

Essentially, what are the 3-4 talking points you are looking to convey?

Bringing clarity to your thinking will have a profound impact on your approach.