Handling Difficult Conversations

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

As you know, successful people have well developed communication skills in three areas.

  • Conversation skills
  • Writing skills
  • Presentation skills

As I was thinking about what to post today, I went to my library and pulled out a great book form Georgia Kosmoski and Dennis Pollack.  It’s called Managing Difficult, Frustrating and Hostile Conversations.  I want to spend a little time with this subject today.  No matter how interpersonally competent you are, you will find yourself in difficult conversations occasionally.  Ms Kosmoski and Mr. Pollack have some interesting things to say about what to do when this happens.

At the end of the book, in a chapter entitled “What Works in All Cases” the authors offer 15 strategies for dealing with difficult conversations.  I’m not going to list all 15 – just the five that, from personal experience, I know to work.

Control yourself – You can’t have a successful conversation when you’re angry.  If you want to be influential in a difficult conversation, the more you control your anger and frustration, the better off you’ll be.

Apologize when you’re wrong – A sincere apology can dramatically change the most hostile of conversations.  The authors say, “The words ‘I’m sorry’ have a positive effect on those who are verbally attacking us.”  I agree.  I often will say “You’re completely right.  I apologize.  What can I do to make it right?”  Angry people respond positively to me when I say this.

Slow down and speak softly – When I get excited – like when I’m in a difficult conversation – I tend to speak louder and faster.  I have trained myself to do exactly the opposite.  When I find myself in a tough conversation, I consciously say to myself, “Slow down, Bud.  Speak softly.”  This helps me maintain my composure and to avoid upping the confrontation ante in the conversation.

Listen well – Make sure you really listen to what the other person is saying.  Don’t start preparing your rebuttal after you hear only a few words.  You’ll be surprised how often the message takes a turn while someone is speaking.  Ask questions for clarification.  Say something like, “Do you mean…?”  The other person will tell you if you’re right – or wrong.  Besides that, he or she will appreciate that you are trying to understand what he or she is saying.

Don’t personalize – This is a big one.  A lot of times people are angry about something that has noting to do with you, and you just happen to be the person right in front of them.  When this happens, it’s best to let them blow off a little steam.  Don’t assume that they’re attacking you.  I have trouble with this one.  I am sensitive by nature.  When someone tells me that he or she is unhappy, my first thought is “What did I do to make him or her unhappy?”  Usually, the answer is, “Nothing”.  He or she is just blowing off steam.  I work hard to not personalize things that aren’t personal.  When you think about it, over personalizing things is a pretty narcissistic thing to do.  And I don’t want to be a narcissist.  Do you?

These five common sense ideas: 1) Control yourself; 2) Apologize when you’re wrong; 3) Slow down and speak softly; 4) Listen well; and 5) Don’t personalize, can really help you turn difficult, frustrating and hostile conversations into productive ones.  Remember them and, more importantly, use them the next time you are in a tough conversation.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: www.SuccessCommonSense.com for common sense advice on becoming the career and life success you are meant to be and to get a copy of my new ebook Star Power: Common Sense Ideas for Career and Life Success.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to www.FirstGiving.com/TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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