One day soon I need to have a chat with my 16 year old daughter about sex, pornography, coercion and consent. The ongoing ‘Everyone’s Invited’ issue has propelled this topic on to our family radar.
As tricky conversations go, I think you’ll agree that this is up there with the most challenging. I don’t want to do it but I will because the potential consequences of avoiding it far outweigh the embarrassment we will both experience.
Coincidentally, I ran a training session yesterday with 100 graduates from a global bank, and one of the areas they wanted to explore was, guess what, challenging conversations. It would seem that many young people fear and avoid situations where there might be conflict or disagreement or heightened emotions, in the workplace and beyond.
I wonder why this is? Could it be that people who’ve grown up in a digital world (with a lot of control over the pace and timing and content of their communication) haven’t had to learn to deal with awkward silences and face to face discord. Notice what happens when a teenage conversation momentarily dries up – the phones come out, thereby denying them the chance to acquire this valuable life skill.
How then can we approach challenging conversations with more confidence and skill? We can….
- Desensitise ourselves by having more of them, more often, in low stakes situations. Let’s always be the person who volunteers to speak to the waiter about the cold chips.
- Reframe our mindset. Let’s lose the negative language and normalise these exchanges. Could we label them ‘important’ rather than ‘scary’?
- Avoid putting it off. Don’t delay.
- Choose the right time and place, especially if emotions are likely to run high.
- Prepare, just as you would for any other piece of communication. Consider their perspective; distil your message; gather evidence; have clarity of purpose; imagine the worst thing that might happen and how you will respond.
- Rehearse the opening or key points, out loud, several times. This will help finesse the tone and language and, crucially, will rob the words of emotion.
- During the conversation, let’s properly listen (rather than waiting to speak). So often, we only hear the first few words before starting to craft our response. Deep listening is one of our most important communication tools. After all, as Buddha pointed out – “if your mouth is open, you’re not learning”.
So, good luck if you’ve got to initiate a testing conversation and please wish me luck with mine.
I wonder if I should just spring clean the house first ……………