5 Ways to Master Difficult Conversations

By: Rose Cartolari, Sr. Consultant, Executive Development Associates, Inc.

Many of us will go a long way to avoid conflict, but it is a natural part of work life. My clients estimate that up to 30% of their time is spent dealing with conflicts. In fact, if managed well, conflict can be a source of innovation, creativity, and connection. Sure, disagreements and arguments can take up a lot of time and energy, but conflicting ideas can be a source of creative ideas that bring about positive change.

The key is how you manage those tricky situations. Mastering difficult situations can be the difference between a good leader and a great one. Ignoring the problem can leave people feeling stifled or excluded; going after it too aggressively can heighten tension to such a degree that no one cannot move forward. So, what can you do?

Here are my 5 Bs to mastering difficult conversations:

  1. Begin with the other person’s concerns. Listen twice as much (if not more) than you speak; try to understand what is at the heart of the problem by clarifying meaning, asking questions.  Like a wine-opener, delve deeper into the matter with questions such as “tell me more” and “help me understand that better”.
  2. Become an expert people reader. Pay attention to both what they are saying as well as what they are not saying by reading non-verbal behavior as well as listening to the actual words. Listen for the emotional message being sent. Don’t assume you understand what they are feeling and thinking – check your understanding by asking questions.
  3. Be super-prepared and careful about how you frame the discussion. Be clear on the outcome you want — how you frame this determines the quality of the conversation. For example, rather than “I would like to ensure my idea gets passed” try “I would like to ensure that the best ideas get passed”.  If it doesn’t come easily, think ahead of what kinds of questions you can ask to get the heart of what is really going on.
  4. Build the tone of the conversation: Intentionally create a welcoming tone to the conversation that will foster genuine sharing and trust. Put forth an effort to be open and curious. Visualize yourself doing so.
  5. Be of service to others – First, help them get what they need from the conversation and then offer your point of view.

No one loves situations involving conflict, but if managed properly they can be vital in changing culture and creativity in an organization.

What do you think? As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts – you can contact me here or on LinkedIn.

About the Author:

Rose Cartolari is a Sr. Consultant, Facilitator, and C-Suite Coach with Executive Development Associates, bringing extensive experience in helping leaders create strategic growth for themselves and their organizations. Rose has a broad background developing and delivering tailored leadership development programs for clients ranging from multinational companies to corporate executives. Having lived and been educated in India, Indonesia, Somalia, the United States, and Italy, Rose is at home in many cultures.