Have you ever participated in what you knew would be a difficult conversation even though you knew it wasn’t a good time? You may have been distracted, in a bad mood, or tired. You went ahead with the conversation and found yourself instantly annoyed, frustrated or hurt.
Afterwards did you think of everything you wish you had said? Did you wish you had honored yourself and your boundaries and set a different time to talk?
Timing is everything.
Yes, there are times when you can’t control the timing. Your boss calls you into his or her office, or you have an unhappy customer on the phone.
But in most situations you may have more control than you think. There may be a more advantageous time or place to have a discussion. The secret is to make sure you are choosing another time or place to engage, and not just avoiding the conversation.
Choose another location
A lawyer was the lead on a big case and it wasn’t going well. After a rough day in court, her boss walked into the area where she and several other colleagues were working and proceeded to yell at her. What was her response? She calmly got up and walked into her boss’s office. Surprised, he turned around and followed her into his office.
She knew her boss had missed a crucial piece of information about the case. She needed to talk to him about it, but didn’t want to make him look bad in front of his staff. So she took control and walked into his office.
NOTE: One of the keys to a successful outcome is to honor the other person’s ego. As the famous saying goes “Never take a person’s dignity. It is worth everything to them and nothing to you.”
There are times moving to a more private space can have a positive effect on a difficult conversation.
Choose another time
If someone is really upset they may want to have a confrontation then and there. But there may be cases where you have the option to suggest another time to continue the conversation.
“Let’s reschedule at a time when I can give you my full attention.”
“I can see this is important to you. Let’s talk later when we have more time to properly discuss it.”
The most important thing is that you do schedule a time to talk so the other person knows you’re not just blowing them off.
Take a walk
If you feel things getting heated, suggest taking a walk…together. When you walk with someone you are both facing in the same direction. It is very hard to attack someone who is standing by your side. Create a situation where you and your opponent are in motion. That physical activity increases blood flow to the brain. You can always take breaks to stop and face each other.
Lead with the positive outcome you want to achieve
If you’re avoiding a conversation, you’re probably predicting a bad outcome. So set the stage for success. Lead with your intent. What’s the positive outcome you want to achieve? “I want to give us a chance to clear up any misunderstandings.” “Completing this project on time is really important to both of our careers. I’d like to talk about some problems and how we can come up with some solutions.” “I know you care about this as much as I do. Can we try find a solution that feels fair to both of us?”
Difficult conversations can be a gift. They offer an opportunity for resolutions to ongoing problems. Choosing when and where those conversations take place helps you take control and feel more centered. This can help you change a potential argument into a productive interaction.