Why do we avoid difficult conversations? At some point, many of us have had to deliver the dreaded line, “We need to talk.” And this often precedes an argument rather than any conversation.
Why are some conversations so difficult that we’ll do anything to avoid them? Possibly because:
If you didn’t care on some level about your relationship with the other person, you wouldn’t struggle with this in the first place. But avoiding the conversation allows things to build up to the boiling point. When we finally have no choice but to confront the issue, we end up damaging the relationship with the other person.
Holly Weeks, author of an article in Harvard Business Review, “Failure to Communicate,” describes a familiar “difficult conversation” scenario:
“Your stomach’s churning; you’re hyperventilating – you’re in a badly deteriorating conversation at work. Such exchanges, which run the gamut from firing subordinates to parrying verbal attacks from colleagues, are so loaded with anger, confusion, and fear that most people handle them poorly: they avoid them, clamp down, or give in. But dodging issues, appeasing difficult people, and mishandling tough encounters all carry a high price for managers and companies – in the form of damaged relationships, ruined careers, and intensified problems.”
Whenever emotions are involved, conversations get tricky. Emotions are generated in the part of the brain called the amygdala – a more primitive part of the brain. When stimulated, it calls the body into fight or flight mode. Humans are genetically hard-wired to react to emotional triggers by either fighting, freezing, or fleeing – actions which, during cavemen times, had huge survival benefits.
Are we much different now than our ancestors? Genetically, no. We still have impulses to blast someone or clam up and avoid them altogether. We are not actually hard-wired to sit down and talk it over with someone when there’s a problem.
Rebecca Knight, in an article in Harvard Business Review, gives us pointers on getting what you need from these challenging conversations while keeping relationships intact.
3 Kinds of Conversations
Fifteen years of research at the Harvard Negotiation Project has produced some interesting information about what goes on during conflict. The book, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, is written by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen and Roger Fisher (Penguin Books, 2000).
There are basically three kinds of conversations, no matter what the subject. In each of these kinds of conversations, we make predictable errors that distort our thoughts and feelings.
We all need courage to have a conversation. Courage deals with matters of the heart.
To have conversational courage means having the inner strength to share innermost feeling and to speak our mind, openly and honestly, by speaking from your heart.
Sometimes a third party can help facilitate difficult conversations. Talking it through with your coach can help decipher the underlying components of a difficult conversation. With a coach, you can examine your assumptions, your emotions and your personal identity. You can learn to structure difficult conversations in a way that improves relationships instead of risking them.
As an Executive Master Certified Coach, I support my clients to summon their courage to engage in conversations that improves their relationship and their results.
Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also welcome your referrals. I offer a 30-minute phone consultation, which will be scheduled at no cost to you. Please request at: email@example.com