Imagine winning a million in the lottery, and telling somebody about it. That would be fun, I suspect. Or imagine returning from a space voyage, having visited strange new worlds, and telling someone about that. No problem there either.
Now imagine having a heart-to-heart conversation with someone at work with whom you have a troubled relationship. Imagine telling him or her about what you find troubling. Now that's a bit trickier.
For most of us, even imagining that scene is painful.
As you imagined it, what did you notice in yourself? Did you feel warm? Did you feel your muscles tighten? Did your heart rate increase? Did you feel hungry, or nauseous, or did you want to get up and walk around, or maybe talk with a friend?
If you noticed any of these things, or anything similar, you can relax. Take a breath. That conversation didn't really happen. You're fine.
Even though you were only imagining the conversation, look at what happened! In a real conversation you might be even more aware of your reactions.
Reactions to these situations can complicate the task of getting through them. Here are some of the advantages of knowing your reactions and knowing how to manage them.
- We can think about some difficult options, and make clearer assessments of those options.
- We can choose to consider some options even though they're unpleasant.
- We can generate insights and ideas that are more likely to surface while we're considering uncomfortable options.
- We can rehearse tactics for difficult interactions.
- We're more likely to enter these situations prepared, because preparation itself becomes easier.
Reactions to difficult
conversations can complicate
the task of getting
through themKnowing how we react to difficult conversations, and knowing how to manage our reactions, can thus be very helpful. Here are some tips for contemplating difficult conversations.
- Choose a safe and comfortable place.
- Notice your breathing from time to time and keep it clear and steady.
- Imagine the conversation in detail. Where it is, what's in the room, what the lighting is like, what your partner looks like, how your voices sound.
- Tell yourself that you can stop any time you want.
- Actually stop, just to practice stopping, or if your imagining gets too difficult.
- Imagine the situation more than once. Notice similarities and differences between different imaginings.
- When you re-imagine the conversation, recall past imaginings. Keep what fits, and discard what doesn't.
- To make it a little more realistic, when you're ready, invite a buddy to sit with you or nearby or on call by phone while you practice.
When you finally have the difficult conversation, remember that the problems between you are probably not yours alone. Other people are almost always involved in any difficulty between two. Maybe the two of you can work that part out together. That collaboration can help bring you closer. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: I
- We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures
to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate
what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
- Dismissive Gestures: II
- In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've
developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They
hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog
of dismissive gestures.
- Letting Go of the Status Quo: the Debate
- Before we can change, we must want to change, or at least accept that we must change. And somewhere
in there, we must let go of some part of what is now in place — the status quo. In organizations,
the decision to let go involves debate.
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: II
- When groups can't reach agreement on all aspects of an issue, the tactics of some members can actually
exacerbate disagreement. Here's Part II of an exploration of impasses, emphasizing two of the more toxic
- Regaining Respect from Others
- When you feel that a colleague has lost professional respect for you — or never really had respect
for you — what can you do about it? Check your conclusions, check whether it's about you, and
ask for a dialog.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.