How to have difficult conversations

The Harvard Business Review built an educational presentation which shows the common causes of a breakdown in communication. Below, we demonstrate ways you and your family can improve upon your common discussion techniques.

In order to be successful in all aspects of life, we need to master the art of difficult conversations. Productive and fruitful conversations and negotiations are key to attaining our financial and life goals. Below is a summary of the 9 common pitfalls to avoid. Use this list to identify any behaviours that may be keeping your family, friends and coworkers from having productive discussions.

  1. We fall into combat mentality, always trying to win a discussion.

  2. We try to oversimplify the problem, without acknowledging the complexity of our loved ones' feelings. If the situation was so simple, it wouldn't be so hard to speak about it. Try to see and appreciate the complexity of the situation.

  3. We don't bring enough respect to the conversation - either by not paying attention or not considering our responses. When responding to your conversation counterpart, make sure your answers and remarks would still make you proud after the conversation is said and done.

  4. We either lash out or shut down, but we don't continue the conversation. Try to stay in the middle of the emotional seesaw and state what you are really trying to say, without resorting to anger and emotions or shutting down completely.

  5. We react to thwarting ploys - this is also known as pushing buttons. Lying, threatening, stonewalling, crying, sarcasm, shouting, silence, accusing, taking offence - all these are ploys we can use or fall victim to. Best strategy is to not use them, and then used by our counterpart - disarm it by addressing it straight on.

  6. We get hooked by the ploys. Everyone has a weak spot and we are quick to act, when poked there. Learn your triggers in advance, so you are prepared to stay in control when your buttons are pushed.

  7. We rehearse our answers instead of truly processing the words we are hearing. In preparation for a difficult conversation we rehearse our lines, as if for a performance. Instead, we should come into conversation with clear answers to the following questions: "What is the problem?", "What would my counterpart say the problem is?", "What’s my preferred outcome?".

  8. We make assumptions about our counterpart's intentions and then look for them to fulfill those points while they are speaking...this one is closer to selective hearing.Instead of making assumptions, we should ask questions when unsure about intentions, thoughts and feelings. Remember, your counterpart is dealing with the same ambiguity.

  9. We lose sight of the goal. By the end of the conversation, we are so far removed from the reason we started!

Strengthening your communication skills can help you in your daily life, when faced against difficult conversations. Check out our Building Your Leadership Skills Checklist to learn about skills of persuasion, differentiating between personality types and becoming a better judge of character.