Last week I read an article on Harvard Business Review called “The Martial Art of Difficult Conversations.” While the author related a personal story to reflect on how to have conflict conversations, it very well applies to business.

I hate conflict. I hate hard conversations. I have this innate need to be liked and I used to think that if I had the hard conversations, people would like me less. Turns out, people like me less if I won’t have the hard conversations and the relationship ends, be it business or personal.

Once I realized that, it became easier to have the hard conversations.

But what do hard conversations really mean? They mean honesty. They mean professionalism. They mean no personal attacks. But they most importantly mean listening.

In social media, we talk about all of these things and how important they are as we build relationships online. But what about using the same philosophy offline, as well?

I’m not going to say it’s easy. Especially when you’re dealing with a situation that you just KNOW you’re right. So following is what I do when I need to have a hard conversation, or someone approaches me with a complaint.

1. If the person comes to me, I ask a lot of questions. I ask questions until the person has said everything they have to say. When I feel like they’ve said their peace and they just need a solution, I ask “big brain” questions such as “How would you like this to end?” or “In a perfect situation, how do you see this going?” I never offer advice, I never offer my opinion. I just ask questions.

2. If I have to have the hard conversation with someone, I don’t sugarcoat things nor do I belabor the issue. I start by saying, “We need to have a conversation that is going to be uncomfortable for both of us, but I think we can work through the issue and come to a solution together.” Then I state the issue. Then I ask some questions to understand the other person’s point of view.

There are plenty of times that I have to peek down at a post-it note that says three things:

1. Count to 10

2. Ask questions

3. Don’t get defensive

If I follow these three reminders, I tend to have better, more effective conversations that result in better relationships.

What do you do to master the art of the difficult conversation?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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