Handling Difficult Conversations

Mar 25, 2024
Handling difficult conversations

How do you handle difficult conversations? And ever wonder how to stay in charge of yourself in high-stakes situations?


In this article, you'll learn three mindset tools to help you show up and communicate more effectively, and get more of what you want when the stakes are high.


Duriing my coaching career,  I have spoken with hundreds of high achieving corporate leaders and business owners like you. And here are some common frustrations I hear:

  • you feel overworked, under-valued or mis-understood
  • you feel discouraged after being passed over for a promotion, or being told you lack leadership skills or executive presence
  • you're concerned your career has lost momentum, and your compensation or revenues aren't at a level worthy of you


It's easy to blame other people when things aren't going your way. Don't be a victim. Step into your power and learn to communicate more effectively, and get more of what you want.


Nelson Mandela once said, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."


Handling difficult conversations requires preparation and planning. Now, you'll learn three mindset tools to help you.


These are tools I've learned from my many years of reading and studying Never Split the Difference - Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss and other communications tools or classes with his company, Black Swan Group. (And by the way, these tips apply to your personal life, too.) One of the key tenants of this approach is building empathy and trust - not adversity - with your counterpart.


Mindset Tool #1

BE CURIOUS. One big mistake is to think you are right and that the other person in the conversation is wrong. For example, you may believe you deserve higher compensation. But don't bring an angry, self-righteous or a victim tone into the conversation. Instead, adopt an attitude and tone of curiosity. Curiosity will help you gather information. It's also going to reassure your counterpart that this isn’t just about you. Having curiosity is going to protect you because you can’t be both curious and angry (or another emotion like frustration) at the same time. You can only be in one dominant emotion. Curiosity is a positive attitude to bring to a difficult conversation. For example, maybe you feel overlooked for a promotion. Instead of sounding upset, be curious, be careful and don’t make assumptions. Curiosity will help you gather the information that you need to advance yourself.


As Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."


Mindset Tool #2 

BE CALM. Your counterpart may be on the defensive and may tell you exactly what you don’t want to hear such as “you’re not ready for it." This might cause you to feel emotionally triggered. Your counterpart may have a tone that is not welcoming but you must stay calm. When you are triggered, you begin operating from your automatic, subconscious mind. And your subconscious mind controls over 90% of your behavior. When you allow yourself to be triggered, you go into autopilot, and you’ll probably end up reacting not responding. For example, you might find yourself in "fight or flight" mode. In order to respond well, you have to stay calm and stay in charge of you. That calmness is going to favorably impact your discussion. When you stay calm, curious, and in the moment, you don’t have to attack or be overly defensive.


You might be wondering, how do I stay calm? The solution is to address your emotions before a high-stakes conversation. This could be done by venting to a friend or trusted colleague, or writing your frustrations down before the meeting so you relieve yourself of those feelings beforehand. Vent BEFORE the conversation so that you don’t bring counterproductive emotions to the conversation. And if a conversation catches you off guard and you don’t have time to prepare beforehand, take a few quiet, deep breaths to calm yourself.


As James Allen  wrote in the book As a Man Thinketh, “Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom”. Remember, being calm can assist you in getting what you want.


Mindset Tool #3

FOCUS ON THE ISSUE. After applying the first two tools so you are curious and calm, you now want to focus on the issue. This is important because you don't want to make your counterpart the issue. Remember that the problem is the issue, not the person. You must address the issue. For example, imagine you are having a conversation around your compensation. In this case, talk about the value you bring, your contribution to the company, and in turn being promoted or compensated. That is addressing the issue. Don't make the mistake of blaming or verbally attacking your counterpart. It is important to separate the other person from the issue so that person does not feel personally attacked. Doing so will help to build more trust. This can turn your counterpart into your collaborator and someone who will help you get what you want.


To recap, the 3 Mindset tools for showing up and succeeding in difficult conversations are:

1) Be Curious, 2) Be Calm, 3) Focus on the Issue.


When you start applying these tools, you’re going to see a big difference. The truth is, in life you are negotiating for something every day. Start practicing these mindset tools and see where your success takes you. It takes preparation and practice.


And in my experience, these tools work like magic.


As Jim Rohn explained, "Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people."


When is your next opportunity to practice and apply these mindset tools in a difficult conversation?

Stephanie Hessler is a High Performance Coach. She helps high-achieving corporate leaders and business owners who want to rapidly advance their careers and create a vision others want to follow, but have hit a roadblock. Therefore, Stephanie guides her clients through a transformational coaching journey called the BLISS Accelerator to turn their goals and dreams into reality. Previously, she worked in the investment business, including on Wall Street, for sixteen years. She earned her MBA at The Wharton School and her BA at Wellesley College. 

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