The difficult conversations in our work and personal lives are challenging. Sometimes it is easier to veil the truth of what you want to say in generalizations to soften the blow and sometimes people outright avoid a conversation altogether.

Being able to directly convey your perspective is an important attribute of a good leader and team member. With this in mind, here are five tips for speaking truth even if it means having a difficult conversation.

Ask for permission first

Being direct and critical can often feel like getting punched in the gut – particularly for the receiver. Unprepared it can really hurt. But if you are ready to receive the “hit” then the blow is far more manageable. By asking permission to have a difficult conversation you’re also ensuring that the person you’re speaking with is in the proper state of mind to hear what you’re saying.

Speak the truth

This may seem simple, but you’d be surprised how often the truth is buried in platitudes, under-estimations, exaggerations and other verbal distortions. Ultimately, if you want to get something across, speaking clearly and truthfully about what you see as the challenge and how it makes you feel is a great first step. One practical method is to write out the key points of what you really want to get across on paper before going into your conversation. Putting it on paper will help you organize your thought and help you prepare to be as direct as you are able to be.

Speak from the heart

It is often easier to point out what someone is doing wrong than how it is affecting you. While accusations may make you feel better in the moment, they’re a sure-fire way of getting the other person’s defenses up quickly. Instead, focus on how you are feeling, speaking from your heart about how their behavior is impacting you. This vulnerability will often be reciprocated leading to de-escalation of particularly tense situations and opening your eyes to other variables informing the decision making of the other party you might not have been aware of. Ultimately, anyone can argue about external situations and the root causes of them. But no one can reasonably disagree about how you feel inside, making this an excellent starting place for your conversation.

Try to actually listen to their response

Often in arguments or difficult conversations, it is really easy to get on your high horse and spend the conversation talking at someone or waiting for your turn to talk at someone. It can be a natural thing, but it isn’t necessarily conducive to having a productive conversation that will alter behavior and fix the problem. After you’ve spoken the truth from the heart to someone, open your ears (and more importantly your mind) to what they have to say. They may empathize with your problem, reveal some new issues they’re facing that you weren’t aware of or outline steps that they want to take to fix the situation. In any case, you won’t know if you aren’t listening.

Breathe. And consider.

In tense and difficult conversations be wary of your emotions and, most importantly, your triggers (cues in the conversation that incite strong – usually negative – emotions). If you feel like you’re getting triggered, breathe and take a mental step back. Instead of launching into a rebuttal, try considering what they have to say. You may want to take some time (and space) at this point to let everything sink in. Often this will help defuse the situation and give both people an opportunity to review and potentially alter their behavior.

Photo courtesy of craftivist collective via Creative Commons.


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