Advanced Communication Skills Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

Tangled Mess

Do you sometimes have to give people negative feedback or resolve a sticky issue? If so, you might be one of millions who dread the prospect of that kind of conversation, wishing it would just go away. Only sticky issues rarely do. They linger and often grow arms and legs making them even harder to address. Knowing what to do and how to do it is critical to handling those kinds of conversations well.

Our research has revealed three key qualities and behaviours that make a real difference. We observed managers dealing with underperformance, project managers handling conflict and customer service professionals dealing with complaints. From that it became clear how the best of the bunch kept the conversation on track and got to a better outcome than most. Hardly anyone enjoys difficult conversations but when you learn these behaviours, your chance of successfully resolving the issue increases significantly.

The most skilled communicators we observed have the following three qualities in common:

1. They are more concerned about getting a result than being right

This is often an overlooked point. If you approach these conversations wanting to prove that you are right, it means you are inadvertently making the other person wrong. If this is your starting premise, then it is likely you will end up in an argument. That’s because in the process of showing someone why they are wrong (and you are right) your focus will be on past problems. Whether you meant to or not, it results in digging up more and more dirt as the other person gets defensive and starts arguing back. So remember, it’s not about being right. It’s about getting a result.

2. They have a belief that they only ever know half the story

This is a great attitude to start a difficult conversation with. This means that you approach the conversation with curiosity and therefore ask lots of questions. As a result, there is more focus on listening and noticing what is going on for the other person as opposed to simply being concerned with getting your own point across. In other words, it becomes two-way dialogue. If you combine asking questions and listening with the attitude of wanting a result as opposed to being right it means that you will be more focused on future solutions. You now have the foundations of a constructive conversation.

3. They are better at controlling emotions

Importantly, those most skilled at handling difficult conversations do not act on their own negative emotional impulses to the same degree as most of us would. This means that they have a range of techniques to turn their negative feelings into a more considered response. Secondly, they understand that the other person will be experiencing a range of negative emotions from shock, denial, blame, anger and upset and that it is their job to guide them through this cycle. They also have the necessary skill set to do so, which includes empathy, testing understanding and emotional management techniques.

The emotional management techniques referred to in this blog can be learned on the edoMidas Critical Conversation Positive Outcome program

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