Difficult Conversations

What makes some conversations difficult, while others are not?Difficult conversations

We are going to be discussing this question at the conference of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians this weekend in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Here is a sneak preview.

There are several possible reasons that conversations may be difficult:

First, you may feel that you are right and the other person is wrong. Maybe it’s what you think or maybe it’s how you feel. You may want to “score points” and prove the other person wrong.

Second, you have feelings about the interaction. You might feel angry, resentful, maybe embarrassed or afraid. You may actually be unaware of those feelings, but they color your actions anyway. Even if you are not aware of your feelings or do not articulate them, they may be conveyed nonverbally. Discussing your problem without including a description of your feelings enables the other person to get your vibe, but that person probably will not understand what is stirring your feelings.

Third, your self-identity is on the line. Because you want to be judged as one who is competent and professional, you might wonder if the other person’s perception of you will be altered if you confront thatperson. Or, you might know yourself as one who stays away from conflict. That would be different, if you actually spoke up regarding a conflict situation.

Think of each of these elements and consider how each of them can lead to a conversation that is useful.

First, let’s assume that an independent judge agrees that you are right. The problem is that such assurance may threaten the person with whom you are conversing, who also feels right. Consider shifting your purpose from winning an argument to learning about this person. What can you learn about the thoughts or needs being expressed? Can you determine the motivation to see the facts differently?

Second, can you identify your feelings? Do you know what feelings are stirring inside you? For example, are you angry? What’s that about? Maybe you are afraid – afraid of not performing effectively or afraid of being regarded as uninformed. Or maybe you are embarrassed. Do you know why you are feeling that way? In a difficult conversation there is usually a lot that is not said – on the part of both parties. It will be helpful if you verbalize your feelings and if you listen for the other person’s feelings.

Third, awareness of your self-image can influence your behavior in two ways: on the one hand, you may not want to risk a confrontation, so you don’t speak up. On the other hand, you want to be regarded as a problem solver. In either case, speaking up with care and control will reduce the risk of an angry confrontation and move things forward to a possible solution.

If you can join us, you will be able to walk through what speaking up with care and control can mean. Or keep watching this blog space. We will share more in our next blog.

That’s it for now.

Carolyn and John

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