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IMPORTANT BUT UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS

Friday, January 25, 2013

Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the media about the firings of coaches around the NFL. In Dallas, the radio and television stations have talked in depth about Rob Ryan being dismissed as the Dallas Cowboys’ Defensive Coordinator. Particularly noted is the way Rob Ryan was fired. The nfl.com reported:

“Ryan told The Dallas Morning News that he learned of his fate while on vacation in Turks & Caicos. Coach Jason Garrett called Ryan on his cell phone with the news.”

(http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000124015/article/rob-ryan-fired-by-dallas-cowboys-after-two-seasons)

Certainly, all of the coaching changes in the NFL make good conversations in the office and in the media, but the fact is that most of us will have difficult conversations in our lives. Hearing all of the recent discussions in the media made me think about the etiquette or protocol of having uncomfortable discussions.

As a non-confrontational person, I tend to avoid any conversation that challenges the balance in my life. As a result, I find that situations get worse because I don’t know how to engage in a conversation that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or add stress to anyone’s life, so I avoid telling them why I am upset. However, because I don’t confront an issue, it often balloons into a huge issue that could have been avoided if I had just talked about it in the beginning. Over the years, I have learned a few strategies and have become less intimidated by these conversations

Here are a few things that have helped me when having important but difficult conversations:

  1. Challenging conversations should be in person if possible. These conversations are often highly emotional and are often taken as personal by the other person. It is respectful to the other person involved to schedule a time to meet. Try to make the meeting place a neutral one like a conference room or the office of a nonpartisan party. If you are the boss, and you are meeting with someone who works for you, meet in your office.
  2. Stick to the facts and leave emotion aside. These kinds of conversations are often very emotional because each person has a different perspective of the situation. Many people feel defensive just to be asked to attend the meeting. Use performance evaluations, statistics, company policy, emails or other documentation to support your position in the conversation.  Avoid gossip or hearsay as validation or evidence.
  3. State your reason for calling the meeting; falling sales, customer complaint, conflict in the workplace. Also state your desire to come to a solution or compromise, or create plan of action at the conclusion of the meeting. This gives the person a way out or lets them know that you are not out to get them.
  4. Listen to what the person has to say. This is a key component in critical conversations because everyone wants to be heard and understood. Everyone has their own side of the story.

This past summer, I was introduced to a book entitled Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. I found this book to be a great resource for strategies for having stressful conversations both at the workplace and at home. The book gives examples of dialogue which has been most helpful to me. It also talks about establishing mutual respect and emotional (and physical) safety for each person in the conversation. I highly recommend this book to anyone that stresses over having difficult conversations and needs a roadmap to guide them through the process.

Just remember that good manners are about showing respect to others. When having an uncomfortable conversation with someone, speak from your heart, be truthful, stick to the facts, and try to find a way to solve the problem before leaving the conversation. If the other person perceives that you truly want to solve the problem and he or she trusts what you are saying, you will not only be respected by that person, but you will also respect yourself.

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