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:
- You and I
- In tense discussions, the language we use often contributes to the tension. If we can transform the
statements we make about each other into statements about ourselves, we can eliminate an important source
of tension and stress.
- Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: I
- Bullying is unlike other forms of toxic conflict. That's why the tools we use to address toxic conflict
simply do not work for bullying. In this Part I, we contrast bullying and ordinary toxic conflict.
- Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
- Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless
use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
- Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness
- "Never mind" can mean anything from "Excuse me, I'm sorry," to, "You lame idiot,
it's beyond you," and more. The former is apologetic and courteous. The latter is dismissive and
hurtful. We have dozens of verbal tactics for hurting each other dismissively. How can we recognize them?
- Meta-Debate at Work
- Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have
different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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