There is not one person listening to this podcast that has not come face to face with this important topic – how to engage in those difficult conversations. With partners, family members, good mates or work colleagues.
These are stressful, difficult and emotionally charged. This is one of those ones that is going to be really hard and you’re probably avoiding it.
And this is a bit different to that wider topics we did a year or six months or so ago. There we talked about when you got a friend or someone you really love who’s doing it tough and you got to have a conversation about pain or anxiety or something else. So we really talked about that. This is different this is more how do you have a conversation, which is a conflict one. So that’s what we’re going to focus on here.
Difficult conversations can come from a whole range of different sources. But one of the most important ones to remember is if you’re firing up about something and you’re now in conflict with someone, normally it’s got something to do with one of your own values that you hold quite deeply and is important to you, is probably being conflicted in some way by the other person.
Pricey had the experience within the last year where there was an employee that he knew well and worked with and this employee was being treated in a very poor way. Pricey was reflecting, “Why does this situation mean so much to me? Why does it really fire me up?” The more he reflected the more he became aware that it was because the way the young man was being treated was clashing with Pricey’s core values; authenticity and dignity!
At first Pricey was confused as to why the issue meant so much to him. Then he realised it was a values thing. His deeply held values were being compromised.
Elephant in the room
So you might find it something like that. Like something’s unfair, someone’s not being honest. And another thing is maybe over a period of time, this might be something at home where maybe if I have a period of time, you and your partner haven’t had a discussion about finances. And maybe some things that they’ve been spending their money on is not really what you agree, but that’s been going on for quite a long time and now you hadn’t spoken about it. And now there’s bit of an elephant in the room or maybe something about parenting as well… So you just get in the situation where now all of a sudden it’s built up, there’s something around this and it’s a bit emotionally charged. It’s going to be a bloody hard conversation.
So often the conflict is linked to poor communication or the lack of communication. And it builds and builds and one of things we all know is the more you avoid it, the bigger the pink elephant becomes. You’ve just got to face the thing. So we want to unpack a little bit about how, just some little ideas that can assist with the difficult conversation.
Timing & Awareness
And one of the little things is as a timing, there’s timing when you should have this particular conversation. There’s never a perfect time but there are times when your gut just says, ‘don’t go there NOW!’ Listen to that gut feeling. You hear your inner self say, “Oops, we need to have this particular chat but right this minute isn’t the right time.”
You probably don’t have these conversations early in your employment – when still on trial. You probably don’t go up to your new boss and say, “You are an idiot mate.” Not a good idea. And as we’ve said so often to be aware. The more aware you can be, particularly the more honest you can be with your own self and this is one of the hardest bits of it. If I’m going into this conflict engaging time, can I be self-aware of me and honest and part of us might be why I’ve got to admit, I’ve actually dropped the ball here. There could be things in this that actually my particular thoughts say – I need to shoulder some of the blame here. So being honest is a really important thing.
Get to the root causes of what is going on
And you might not have set some expectations, you might not have agreed on things that there could be a whole range of things that are missing that would allow conflicts to arise. And so it’s good to, at the very beginning, to get to the root cause of what’s actually going on. Because then you can say to yourself, “You know what, this might will be a completely understandable piece of conflict.”
One of the steps Grego tries to take all the time in this situation is at the point where he’s entering into the conversation, he tries to drop all the emotional charge. If you go in and you’ve built it up to be such a huge thing, it will generally become a big thing. If you just make it almost a light-hearted, more, “Hey, could we just talk about that? Is that all right? Well, I think we’ve just got on the wrong foot here, on the wrong page and can we just quickly get aligned so we can move on.”
Just framing it like that, framing it in a new or non-blame way – doesn’t lay any blame, doesn’t bring any charge to it. And Greg’s done that a number of times and has found that what would have been a difficult conversation just flowed very easily.
Framing the interaction
The way you frame it is so important. Frame it in a positive way that you and the other will both come out the other side stronger and wiser. You are seeking a win – win. It is not just that YOU come out the other side stronger – but so does the other. Part of the awareness here is about power. In this type of engagement the conflict is going to be resolved if there’s a sense of an equality.
But if it’s power over, if it’s almost when you’re going to win and the other must lose – then you will not get resolution – the conflict will only deepen, disappear but appear again somewhere else – it never truly goes away. It is the call to be the old wise fox. You must interact in a way that there is genuine power sharing in the interaction. If the other senses there’s an imbalance of power, they are going to feel threatened, they’re going to come out fighting. So it’s really important to be aware and go, “Okay, let’s come into this honest, let’s come to this as equal partners, let’s come into this ready to really, really learn.”
Now that’s the ego piece. It’s sneaking in. Who’s going to win this little battle? Right, who’s going to lose! And more often than not, most conflict with people that you care about or you work with and you don’t want to be in a situation where it’s competition because you’re on the same team and most of the time you’re on the same team. So you want the win-win outcome as much as you possibly can.
There’s a great writer that Pricey often quotes, Eckhart Tolle. And Eckhart Tolle would say, “Conflict is just a part of every person’s life.” But then he would then say, “The depth of the conflict equals the depth of awareness and presence needed to positively engage with it.” So the deeper the conflict, the deeper the self-awareness and of presence to the other has to then actually be stronger.
The deeper the conflict, the more present you have to be. It is all about getting yourself into the right positive, win – win, power sharing mindset – and then you are on the right path.
Being aware, dropping the ego, seeking when being incredibly present, and focusing on a better outcome for everyone involved. The first step that Greg always takes then is some way of seeking understanding.
1. Seek Understanding
Ask…How did we get here? Could you explain what’s going on for you in more depth? How do you feel about this? Like am I responding to you in a way you want to be responded to? Could I respond better?
You’ve got to totally drop the ego here and seek deep understanding of what has happened for them and why. And you’re trying to get the root cause, right, of why the conflict has arisen.
And when you do this – when you seek understanding you are putting the power over to them and they will respect and value AND respond positively to this. You’ve said, “What do you think’s going on here? How do you feel?” So the power is going from you over to them and you’re empowering them. And they’re going to sense that and they are going to value that. And that’s going to lead them to not be as fired up because they then feel you’re genuinely seeking to understand. And when both parties are seeking to understand, you’re going to a much, much better place.
Part of this seeking understanding will be to do with checking in with what assumptions have been made and often incorrectly so. Checking things out too because all of us have a lot of assumptions and a lot of things which we haven’t checked out, and often misunderstanding comes from them.
2. Steel Yourself – this can be tough stuff
There are times when maybe this is not the first part of the conversation. You might’ve had multiple. The topic might have come up a number of times and it’s never been easy and it’s stressful. Maybe it’s something hanging out with the family and something really needs to be said that just has to be delivered. Enough listening has been done, enough understanding is being done and maybe there’s a family issue or a work issue and you’ve now got to say something and have a conversation with someone based deeply on your values. It might be difficult to deliver.
Greg recalls that a CEO once said to him, “In those moments, you’ve really got to steel yourself and just come right from your core and say what needs to be said, the best version of yourself. And if you can do that, then at least you’ve delivered the message.” If you’ve already done all the other understanding pieces there, there’s going to be times to steel.
It’s going to be hard to deliver a message because it is a tough topic and there is so much of yourself invested in it but when you steel yourself, but it comes from your core, so when you speak the truth with courage and honesty and it comes from your core and you’re ego aware, the other at some level is going to hear it.
Now this is a really important point. We’re not saying how to win or how to always get the best from that difficult conversation. We’re saying is how to have one, because you’re going to have enough of them where you don’t get the result you want because you’re not necessarily going to shift the other person. It’s a really important thing that sometimes you’ve got to have a difficult conversation because it needs to be had. Now there’s going to be enough times in your life where you just have to agree to disagree. The approach, whatever it is that at least you’ve done what needed to be done. At least you now know where they’re coming from. You’ve brought your best, most resourceful self to a difficult topic and you’ve shifted it.
And you shifted it and we think it’s that one step that is so important. It’s that planting the seed. It’s sensing that this is a relationship for the longer term. I mightn’t get resolution on this particular conflict. Now that might be an unreal thing, but what I am doing, I’m building trust. It’s slow. It’s one tiny, tiny, tiny current step here, but I’m leading to a point where the other knows I was authentic, real, and sought to understand it, but I still have the courage to actually name it. And it could be a painful.
Sometimes it is really difficult – you WILL be misunderstood and used
We have all had this happen. Where the other looks at you as if you were a goose. They have rejected what you’ve said, walked out of the room and despite your every best effort have told a totally untrue version of what you said! So you bide your time. You go back to them a week later and say, “Hey, I heard that your version of story was this. Is that your recollection?” And I might revisit again. But again, it’s that sense of trying to go forward. Our ideal is that you and the other go forward with one another to an outcome which you have shared.
3. Prepare to walk away if needs be
What we have just shared is our experience in the majority of cases – when you come to the encounter in good faith and seeking understanding, get the timing right and are true to your motivation and core values – things will work out. But – and this does not happen often, there are times when you just need to say “We will not be going on the same path any longer.”
And that’s the most difficult one to have in many ways because you have tried so hard and sought understanding. We’re communicating incredible disappointment to the other person, in which case you’ve got to have had multiple different conversations prior to that one. Because you don’t want it to be the first time they have heard about your deep disappointment – or they are not meeting expectations.
In fairness to both of you it is about relationship – and you don’t want the first time you engage in a difficult conversation to be the end game – the closure point. You want to be able to give them a chance. You would want understand where they’re coming from as much as possible and try and shift them (and maybe learn something yourself or you do the shifting). We are not saying that we want the person who strongly disagrees with you to the point that they need to move on to be your biggest ambassador or standing in the grandstand applauding you. That just is not real nor authentic.
4. Ensure you have trust established
A different conversation is about shifting someone by degrees, just one or two degrees every time because there’s low, low, low trust normally or trust has left the room and you’ve got to have deposit in the bank account a number of times. You’re not going to shift a senior stakeholder at work who doesn’t believe in what you’re doing in one conversation. Most of the time you’re going to build trust with them. You got to earn it, same with this.
5. Do your homework
Part of that building of the trust is for you to have done your work. Great coaches are people who know their players, know their players’ strengths, weakness, et cetera. And the player doesn’t find he’s been dropped down to the seconds through a media release or through gossip in the change room. The boss, the coach has gone to them, said, “Hey, I’m needing to put you down into the seconds. My actual reasons are this, this, this. Last week I asked you to do such and such,” and there’s a real sense of talking it through. You’ve done your particular homework. And at the end of the day, I’ve tried my best. At the end of the day, if we go into conflict this particular way, they will know that you tried – they will sense your authenticity and honesty. Sometimes it is all you can do.
There are a few things in life that give you really great satisfaction or make you proud of your own courage. In this day and age, difficult conversations that’s where courage almost primarily exists. It’s not courage going to the gym and doing an extra 10 sets. That’s not courage. That’s just turning up. But emotionally difficult things like this where you step up and say something with the best of intentions and try and work for something difficult. That’s real courage these days. If you can have the difficult conversations in your life that you need to have, you’ll stand back in a week or a month from now and go, “I’m really proud of how good I was in that.”
This is the kind of courage – these are the kind of decisions that make you a Universal Man.
Grego & Pricey