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How do you have those difficult conversations?

Do you dread those difficult conversations with staff or perhaps someone close to you? Perhaps you have been putting off speaking to a member of staff you are responsible for; perhaps you are having some issues with a teenager; or perhaps you just want to improve your relationships and you want to get the conversations right, but you just don’t know how to start the conversation. 

Handling difficult conversations requires developing a set of skills. Conversations are not just what we say, but take account of a number of other factors including our listening, observation, questioning and empathic skills, which all come into play in our conversations with others. Words and body language are very powerful and we can find ourselves in a rapidly accelerating situation without realising it if we are not careful. Following these few simple steps will help you to get your point across in an objective manner. 

Listening
How often do we really listen to the other person’s point of view? If we really listen to what the other person is actually saying we can have much more productive conversations. Try focusing on what the other person is saying. It becomes easier to understand their situation rather than focusing on our own situation and what we want to say next.

Observation and body language
Only twenty percent of communication is what we say; eighty percent is non-verbal. Through body language and facial expressions we give a great deal away. We use a number of micro facial expressions, that if observed can tell us a great deal about what the other person is really feeling. If we subtly mirror the other person’s body language and maintain good eye contact we can rapidly gain their confidence and help them to feel that they are being listened too and understood. Being aware of our own and the other person’s body language can be a really helpful way of tuning in to the other person feelings.

Questions
The questions that we ask can really help to clarify the situation. By using open ended questions we can gain information about the others persons situation. For example, instead of “you made a mess of that” if we say “tell me what it is that you wanted to achieve,” we start to get to the bottom of the situation without blaming anyone. By stating the facts, and not our emotions and by saying what we observe and not what we feel. We can help to move the situation on.

Empathy
We should try putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes and try to see the situation from their point of view. Even in the most difficult situations, if we are able to gain a sense of understanding for the other person’s situation and build a genuine understanding we are more likely to achieve a positive result.

Handled well difficult conversations become learning conversations and can lead to improved outcomes for both parties and a deeper understanding of both ourselves and others.

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