How to Have Difficult ConversationsSeptember 18, 2018
In the past few weeks, I have been at two ‘girly’ events. Driving home from them, I was daydreaming about the day and the women in attendance. At each occasion, one a luncheon in Kankakee by the Sea with my high school classmates and the other in my beautiful Chicago, I was faced with two difficult conversations.
My Recent Difficult Conversations
During one conversation, I learned one of my classmates is suffering from the fatal disease, ALS, and one of the girls at the other event was allergic to every type of perfume in the world (and let everyone know it). In fact, she demanded that every woman wearing perfume stay away from her!
These two women were night and day in their communication skills; both verbal and nonverbal and I was faced with having two difficult conversations.
What interested me was the nature of the woman who knew she was going to meet a horrendous fate. She had sparkling eyes, a broad smile and was looking forward to taking a river cruise with her husband in the fall, while at the same time arranging to send her pooch to a three-week guide dog training school to learn caregiving skills.
I said to her, “I am so sorry to learn of your illness.” She made the difficult conversation easy, for me. Her verbal reply and her non-verbal expressions amazed me. Her sparkling eyes and smile synchronized with her words.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, adding, “remember, she said smiling, you can never say these words to me again.” Her non-verbal and verbal skills showed appreciation and strength. She put me at ease and in awe because she made me comfortable and hopeful for her.
I can still visualize the other woman’s nonverbal expressions and verbal comments. As I walked up to the table to say hello, she said, “I am allergic to perfume!” and with that sunk down into her chair and covered her nose and stayed in that position until I left the table. You know, darlings, how women love their perfume. Therefore, I was appalled by her actions.
I wanted to say to her, “you need help with verbal and nonverbal communication. If only you could see yourself and hear yourself…”
Instead, I decided to just walk away. It was not the time or place to say anything.
And that brings me to the point of my musings: how to handle yourself when faced with a difficult conversation.
How to Broach a Difficult Conversation
- Nonverbal communication is as important as your verbiage. Please don’t address difficult conversations in a text or in an email. Do this in person because your facial and all body language is very important.
- Immediately get to the point and make your point clear. State your reason(s) and share your intent. Overgeneralizing or overstating the situation creates a defensive attitude.
- Speak in the first person. Speak for yourself. For example do not say, “Everyone is annoyed that you are late for every card game.” You are not expressing your feelings. You should say, “I am upset that you are late for every card game.” Lay your cards on the table.
- Be fair. Validate others feelings but stay strong to your conviction.
How to Answer Difficult Conversations
- Be an attentive listener.
- Use eye contact.
- Ask relevant questions.
- State what the person is upset about. Do not become blindsided and say, “So, you are upset with me because I am always late for the card game.”
- Apologizing shows a strength of character.
During difficult conversations, the stakes are usually high. You both want to be fair, project confidence, apologize when necessary and validate when possible each other’s feelings. Do not forget that your body language is as important as your ‘words.’
In some circumstances, it is best to walk away. That is up to you. Listen to your heart. It knows.
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