Dread difficult conversations? Think about responding differently.

Coaching and change

Dealing with difficult conversations

We can’t control others and their behaviour.  We can only control our own behaviour and the way we respond.

Listen to this on Coaching with Catrin Mac podcast.

We often forget we have choices, especially when we’re stressed or overwhelmed. It’s true also that many people believe that we have one way of operating and that’s it, that’s how we are.  This is simply not true.  With awareness, we can choose to behave and respond differently.

This is true in many situations and interactions, but here I’m looking at our reaction to difficult conversations or conflict. 

It’s natural for us to feel the impact of others. A cross word can upset us. A personal insult can play on our minds for days (even if the words weren’t meant as an insult). The behaviour of others has an enormous impact on us. It’s important to acknowledge this and then take a step back and choose a different response so that it doesn’t upset us or make us feel stressed or uncomfortable.

There are certain things we can do to invite others to behave differently, but there’s never any guarantee they will cooperate or that the change in behaviour will be sustainable. The most powerful thing you an do is to choose to change your own reaction, so that their negative behaviour doesn’t affect you as much. That is something you can control.

If there’s someone that you know winds you up and it’s likely that your interactions are ones you’d prefer to avoid, it’s likely you won’t be at your best, most positive, open minded self at those times.  This behaviour, in turn, may bring out or at least perpetuate, less than positive behaviour in them.  And here you have a perfect cycle of negative behaviour that is hard to change and more difficult conversations that might cause stress.

So why not approach it with curiosity and think, what could I do differently in terms of behaviour? How might a better me respond?

You might choose to listen well, ask questions, make fewer assumptions, take a step back and keep an open mind. By just doing this, it is highly likely the other person will behave differently. And although I can’t guarantee you’re going to love that person immediately, you might see them in a different light.

Anyone you know who’s good at this?

If you struggle with this, it can help to think of someone who’s great at communicating, even with difficult people.  Notice what they do, how they behave. Is there anything about them that you can  emulate?

Take a step back

If the thought even of speaking to that person gets you feeling irritated, then imagine taking a step back and observing the interaction as a third person. Be curious about how they’re both behaving and be grateful for the opportunity to learn about communication. 

By taking a step back, you can also get a new perspective. One that says that the other person is probably not trying to be difficult. They might be going through some hard times or feel intimidated by you. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

See them as an interesting learning opportunity

Again, if you can approach with compassionate curiosity and think ‘how very interesting, I’m learning lots from my response to this – without them I wouldn’t have this chance to get to know myself like this’.

Every moment we step out of our comfort zone into discomfort is an opportunity to learn, to know ourselves better and grow.

Have some fun with these and approach with a lightness.  It really can help you choose your response and ultimately change the dynamic – hopefully for, if not a better one, a neutral one.

Some of you might think, oh but they’re being difficult, why should I change? A response I heard recently to this was “well, it’s your heart attack” and I agree – you’re the one getting stressed and you want to avoid that at all costs. So it’s worth a try?

If you’d like to find out more about how coaching can help (both individual and team) or training on difficult conversations, get in touch.