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Tough Conversations – Never Easy, But You Can Get Better!

Two people are in an argument and are facing away from each other. The woman has her arms crossed and the man has his arms thrown up. They both look angry.

Like it or not, tough conversations are a part of our normal business life. We have interactions that are pleasant, but sometimes we all find ourselves in a situation involving some kind of conflict. Employers and leaders especially so.

Since you can’t always avoid tough conversations, the most important thing to do is learn how to handle or manage them in productive ways.

How do you feel about the prospect of having a tough conversation with someone? Does it stress you out? That is the perfectly natural reaction most of us initially have. Here at The Great Canadian Training & Consulting Company we know how you feel, and we have developed a great framework to help you have those tough conversations with your team.

Our senior professional skills facilitator, Joel Silverstone, has developed this framework into one of our most popular webinars. It’s been so well-received that we decided to adapt it into this blog post to make it even more widely available and accessible to you.

Your goal here is to turn tough conversations into constructive dialogue. To do that, let us first look at the formula and the four-step process involved, and then we will briefly go over some of the many advantages our webinars have to offer.

Two people are in an argument and are facing each other. The woman is holding up her pointer finger and the man is gesturing with his hands. There is a speech bubble with a thumbs down above the woman’s head and there is a speech bubble with a thumbs up above the man’s head.

Tough Conversation Formula

Tough conversations generally include three things:

  • Emotions and adrenaline are running high.
  • We have differing opinions; I see it one way, but you see it another.
  • We tend to feel like we’re fighting; like we need to “win the argument”. We feel like we absolutely cannot “lose ground”. After all, that could undermine our position or our security.

We might often have a different opinion or preference to somebody else, and we might even prefer our choice to be the one adopted, but it’s usually when the emotions are running high that it becomes a tough conversation. So, two friends trying to decide where to go for lunch might each have a different preference, but if the emotions aren’t high—if both are relaxed and willing to be flexible—then it’s not a tough conversation. It’s just a brief chat with a friendly decision made that both are willing to live with. Wouldn’t it be nice if all our conversations could be so easy! The emotions are often the key.

Two people are in an argument and are facing each other. The man has his arms crossed and the woman is gesturing with her hand. There is a speech bubble with a thumbs down above the man’s head and there is a speech bubble with a thumbs up above the woman’s head.

Tough Conversation Goal

Like those two friends, the goal is to simply talk. We often make the mistake of thinking we have to “solve” the issue or “win” the argument. But that’s not the case. The goal is to simply “Get to Dialogue.” That means feeling comfortable and safe with each other to the point that each can really listen to and hear what the other is saying. Then you’ve reached the point where each participant can feel respect.

There are four images. The image on the top left is a man sitting at his desk. He is on the phone. There is a speech bubble above his head with an image of himself and a woman shaking hands. The image on the top right is a woman in an office looking into a handheld mirror. The image on the bottom left is a woman sitting at a desk. There is a speech bubble above her head with an image of hands clapping. The image on the bottom right is a man and a woman sitting at a desk across from each other. They both look happy. Above their heads are large arrows pointing to both of them.

Tough Conversation Process

To get to that goal, there are basically four steps. We’ll call them the M.O.R.E. steps. These steps will give you more options, confidence, control, and respect. Let’s examine each of them briefly.

M. Mindset

How do you want the other person to feel? Bigger, or smaller?

Ask yourself what you want from this relationship. Do you want collaboration, or trust? In other words, do you want to be talking and looking at the problem together by the end of the conversation, or do you want your conversation to be at a deeper or more meaningful level by the end?

Here are some suggestions on what you should be thinking of:

  • Seek common ground. Try to find something each of you have in common; for example, a strong work ethic, or a desire for the project to succeed.
  • Focus on the future, not the past. Don’t bring up past problems, but instead look at the possibilities ahead.
  • Find a mutual purpose. Consider this the twin brother or sister of seeking common ground. Look for something you have in common at the start, but also something each of you hope to achieve by the end.
  • Be soft on the person, but hard on the problem. Look to collaborate and solve the tough problem together, without attacking the other person.
  • Beware of those hidden emotions that could get in the way. Frustration, anger, and resentment will all show in your thinking, your words, and your body language.

O. Observe the Emotions

Communication is more than just words. It includes the spoken word, but much of the way we communicate comes through our tone of voice and our body language. We want to make sure that our tone of voice and our body language match the words we’re speaking. We often tend to exaggerate the emotions of others and even of ourselves.

As a suggestion, try to separate the emotion from the logic. How do you and the other person really feel? Don’t jump to conclusions and exaggerate the other person’s emotions. Instead, stop and think about the emotions you’re picking up on. Are they really as intense as you initially thought? Your goal here is to determine how you and they really feel.

  • Words
  • Tone of voice
  • Body language

R. Respect

Both of you should feel respected. Easier said than done? Here are some useful tips.

Always make the other person feel good. For example, there’s a big difference in the response to a “yes, but…” reply from the response to a “yes, and…” reply. One tears down, while the other allows for additional input and variations without hurting feelings.

Listening is one of the best ways to show respect to the other person. So, avoid allowing anything to distract you while the other person is speaking.

Listen without trying to solve the problem. Often, what the other person wants most is just to know that you’re hearing them. Listen for what seems to be important to the other person.

  • Always make the other person feel good.
  • Avoid being distracted when you’re trying to listen.
  • Listen without solving.

E. Exchange

Remember that the goal is to “Get to Dialogue”. This is where we exchange words and ideas in a friendly, cooperative manner. For dialogue to take place, you need to create a safe environment. The steps so far will have paved the way for that environment. Now it’s time to make use of the platform you’ve built.

There are three simple tips to keep in mind at this point in the process:

  • Ask questions.
  • Make your request.
  • Yes, don’t let the listening stop. You may need to cycle through these three steps again before everything is resolved.

A man sits at a desk with a computer screen on it. He is eating noodles as he looks at the screen.

Webinars – Some of the Advantages

Webinars are a great way to learn on your own schedule. They’re convenient, engaging, and flexible. Our webinars allow for audience interaction and are reposted so you can review them or catch them later if you’re rushed for time.

A woman is teaching a class of five students. She has a large screen with content on it and is using the screen to teach. One of the students has their hand raised.

Next Steps

If you enjoyed this topic, you will also enjoy some of our other Communication Skills courses.

  • Register for these courses to further your learning:

Great Leadership Conversations Mean Feedback”, and

Conflict Be Gone! Navigating Difficult Conversations

Catch the webinar replay or register for future webinars.

A person is sitting at a desk looking at a computer screen.

Our Flexible Booking Arrangements

You can take advantage of our flexibility by booking your professional skills training when it’s convenient for you. Whatever your preferences or needs, contact us to talk over your options and make the desired arrangements.

Currently, all our training sessions are held virtually to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. When local public health recommendations allow, all our private software and professional skills training will be available to you on-premises, or virtually with a live instructor at no additional cost. If you would like to learn more about our virtual live instructor-led training or would like a short demo of our virtual training platform, please reach out to us.

Are you ready to book your professional skills training? Do you have any questions?

Learn more about all our professional skills training options here. We would love to help you reach your goals. To learn more about the programs that we offer, please click here for anywhere in Canada.

How to Get Started

Learn more about all our training options here. We would love to help you reach your goals.
To learn more about the programs and packages that we offer, please click here for anywhere in North America.

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