Dealing with difficult discussions?

““Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” ― Socrates

In the world of work having difficult conversations, whether it is with your boss, a co-worker or a customer, are an inevitable part of management. How should you prepare for this kind of discussion? How do you find the right words in the moment? And, how can you manage the exchange so that it goes as smoothly as possible?

What the Experts Say
“We’ve all had bad experiences with these kinds of conversations in the past,” says Holly Weeks, the author of Failure to Communicate. Perhaps your boss lashed out at you during a heated discussion, or your direct report started to cry during a performance review; maybe your client hung up the phone on you. As a result, we tend to avoid them. But that’s not the right answer. After all, tough conversations “are not black swans,” says Jean-Francois Manzoni, professor of human resources and organisational development at INSEAD. The key is to learn how to handle them in a way that produces “a better outcome: less pain for you, and less pain for the person you’re talking to,” he says. Here’s how to get what you need from these hard conversations — while also keeping your relationships intact.

Change your mindset
If you’re gearing up for a conversation you’ve labelled “difficult,” you’re more likely to feel nervous and upset about it beforehand. Instead, try “framing it in a positive, less binary” way, suggests Manzoni. For instance, you’re not giving negative performance feedback; you’re having a constructive conversation about development. You’re not telling your boss: no; you’re offering up an alternate solution. “A difficult conversation tends to go best when you think about it as a just a normal conversation,” says Weeks.

“The more calm and centred you are, the better you are at handling difficult conversations,” says Manzoni. He recommends: “taking regular breaks” throughout the day to practice “mindful breathing.” This helps you “refocus” and “gives you the ability to absorb any blows” that come your way. This technique also works well in the moment. If, for example, a colleague comes to you with an issue that might lead to a hard conversation, excuse yourself —get a cup of coffee or take a brief stroll around the office — and collect your thoughts.

Plan but don’t script
It can help to plan what you want to say by jotting down notes and key points before your conversation. Drafting a script, however, is a waste of time. “It’s very unlikely that it will go according to your plan,” says Weeks. Your counterpart doesn’t know “his lines,” so when he “goes off script, you have no forward motion” and the exchange “becomes weirdly artificial.” Your strategy for the conversation should be “flexible” and contain “a repertoire of possible responses,” says Weeks. Your language should be “simple, clear, direct, and neutral,” she adds.

MY HELPFUL TIP: Rather, I use a technique I picked up as part of a retreat. It is called “Pause, Reflect, Act”.

When I find myself in a stressful situation or in a discussion at home or at work, there comes a point where you get caught up in the moment, diving into the words and not recognising the context and flow. That is when this technique comes into its own. I say the words in my head. You might have them written down on a piece of paper. You might even count the fingers on your hand. Whatever works for you.

That split second pause before you answer is just enough to give yourself a moment to reflect on “am I reacting to the way someone is saying something. AKA, I am feeling threatened / rejected / lost / alone / whatever” or what is it I want to communicate.

Do I remember to do this all the time? No. Does it help when I do? Absolutely. Is it something I have shared at work and at home? Yes. And it has helped.

This technique, along with regular mindfulness practice has certainly helped me to create a more integrated life. I know I still have many “life boxes that I manage”, but they are far fewer than I had before and I certainly feel that life is a road easier to travel.

I leave you with the following quote.
“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” [Address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 November 2004]” ― Desmond Tutu

Mindfulness and it’s impact on how you speak

“Sometimes when I’m talking, my words can’t keep up with my thoughts. I wonder why we think faster than we speak. Probably so we can think twice.” ― Bill Watterson

I have just completed an extended Mindfulness diploma and one of the sections of the programme really struck a chord with me. Many of the mindfulness programmes that I have come across talk about the self, both internal as well as external. The internal thoughts and feelings you have, as well as how you relate to those in the outside world and how you react to them. This was the first programme where there was a section on Mindful Speech.What on earth is that you might ask?

As well as listening mindful, we can also have the intention to speak in a mindful way. Just as the words, phrases and intonation of the words and phrases spoken to us can have an impact on us, so too can the words, phrases and intonation of the words and phrases we say to others mindlessly, hurt and offend others.

so if we are to bring to the way we speak, by expanding the way we use mindfulness in the way we currently think, there are a number of key aspects to the approach we need to take. Firstly, we need to absolutely be in active listening mode. Active listening is the process where by you listen to others and NOT, I repeat NOT, half way through or even sooner, you have a thought in your head on how to answer the person. I will follow up with an article on Active Listening as it is so important to both work and life.
Thich Nhat Hanh has expanded the wording of the precept of Mindfulness Speaking in a wonderful way:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticise or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Before you speak, instead, think of:

T – is it True? Are you speaking the truth and reflecting the truth in the answer you give? Can you feel in your heart, that you are being truthful. I always say, the “truth will out” and even if you try to hide something, your mannerisms, the way you sound, even the way you are sitting, standing, leaning or moving, will indicate truth or lies.

H – is it Helpful? Are the words and phrases you are using helpful to the person and situation you are facing?

I – Is it Inspiring? Do the words inspire positiveness and confidence and a sense of compassion?

N – Is it Necessary? One of my favorites. We, as humans can not stand silence, so we seek to fill silence with noise and sounds. Music, speech, clicking, tapping, we all do it. I have been practicing the silent response now for a while and find that rather than letting my thoughts run ahead and my speech follow, rather allow myself to pause, reflect and then respond.

K – Is is Kind? Are you saying things and discussing in a kind, compassionate and empathetic manner? Are you saying things in a warm manner, without judgement; without anger; without abruptness.

Mindfulness speaking takes time, practice and an honest appreciation that people might find it strange if you change overnight.

As always, I leave you with a quote….

“In life, finding a voice is speaking and living the truth. Each of you is an original. Each of you has a distinctive voice. When you find it, your story will be told. You will be heard.” John Grisham