In today’s society, there is a tendency to avoid difficult conversations and opt for the path of least resistance. Phrases such as “do what feels right to you” and “live your truth” often translate into avoiding tough situations. However, when it comes to business, sweeping challenges under the rug can create further complications. How can we navigate these kinds of conversations, specifically when we know the people we are speaking to might not agree with our point of view? Here are a few guidelines and tips that can help.
- Start by setting the stage. Be open and honest about the fact that the conversation is going to be difficult. That simple acknowledgment can help prepare everyone and encourage active listening and productive processing. It also can trigger worst-case hypothetical scenarios, which can be an advantage because people tend to put things into perspective afterward.
- Communicating a goal can be highly effective. Explain what you hope to achieve by the end of the conversation. Focusing on a goal can prevent conflicts from escalating into shouting matches or unproductive displays of emotions.
- Acknowledging emotions can validate the other party. Recognize how he or she is feeling and stress that those feelings are important to you. Even if you don’t agree with the emotions, validate the person. For example, saying “I can tell this is very upsetting to you, and that matters to me because you matter to me” can help open up the conversation and keep the tone respectful.
- Inquire about input and answer questions. Ask for the other person’s thoughts and questions on the matter. Everyone needs space to process and reflect.
- It’s not always necessary to solve everything in one meeting. Be flexible about scheduling another meeting, if needed, and take time to process. Processing and returning later often can result in better solutions and more agreement from all parties involved.
- Brainstorm solutions openly and honestly. Accept all ideas and possibilities, ensure that every party is included and obtain buy-ins and support from everyone involved.
- Take a deep breath and show your respect for everyone in the room. Listen intently, be thoughtful with your words and show you care about all opinions and perspectives. Being slow to speak and quick to listen is especially important if you are the leader of the group. Remember, these conversations are not about you alone. They’re also about cultivating understanding and acceptance from others.
Although this process might require more time than avoiding or disregarding tough conversations, it produces more favorable results because it creates acceptance and a thorough understanding of all perspectives. This understanding fosters mutual respect and provides a solid foundation for successful teamwork in the future.
– Kelly Nagel is president of the Acworth Business Association. She is the chief marketing officer and “bagel tester” for Nagel’s Bagels.