Mastering Challenging Conversations: This Is How You Can Get Your Message Across
Reading time: approx. 3 minutes
You are about to have a difficult conversation and you may have thoughts similar to the following running through your head:
How do I find the right words for my request?
Will the person I will be talking to understand what I’m actually about and respond to me
How do I manage to get my message across clearly, without hurting the feelings of my counterpart or creating resistance?
Regardless of the exact thoughts that are on your mind, it can be useful to take a moment to prepare for a challenging conversation. You should be aware that in a conversation there is always a sender and a recipient and the recipient of the message does not automatically understand what the sender would like to express. A message can be interpreted and understood in many different ways and can trigger a wide variety of thoughts and feelings in our counterpart.
If you take into account a few basic rules of communication and prepare yourself for the conversation with them in mind, you can ensure that the message you want to communicate is more likely to be understood in your interests.
The following part of the article contains suggestions for preparing a challenging conversation. We would like to invite you to try out the suggestions and see whether they feel suitable and useful to you.
Step 1: Setting
When is the best time to talk?
Arrange a fixed appointment to avoid interruptions and time pressure and not to surprise your conversation partner.
Where can you talk to each other openly and in quiet?
Who should participate in the conversation?
If the topic of the conversation affects more than one person, it makes sense to speak openly about it with everyone involved. In some cases, however, it may also make sense to have one-on-one interviews first and to go into a conversation with everyone together at a later time.
Step 2: Objective of the conversation
What is your objective or request for the conversation? What is your goal?
Of course, you already know why you want to have the conversation, otherwise, you wouldn't want to prepare for it. However, it makes sense to formulate very clearly what the request and goal of the conversation are so that you can address it correctly during the conversation and not lose sight of it.
Step 3: Communicate your request properly
At this point, it's important to break your concern down into three areas so that you can convey what the conversation is about in a respectful and appreciative manner. Stick to the following order of the three areas:
Area 1: Perception
What did you perceive? Describe the relevant situation objectively.
For example, "I've noticed that for the last four meetings you've been about 10 minutes late, each time."
Important: Stick to the facts. Was it really 10 minutes or actually only 2? Avoid using generalized words such as “always” or “never” at this point, as they usually do not correspond to the truth and say more about your feelings about the situation than they represent the facts.
Area 2: Effect
How does the situation affect you? Which thoughts and feelings does it trigger in you?
For example, "I wonder if there was a reason you were late, and if I'm honest, it makes me feel a bit angry.“
Important: Communicate using I-messages. They are your thoughts and your feelings. Your thoughts and feelings have their justification and are allowed to be there and to be expressed. So that you don't hurt/attack your conversation partner and create resistance, it is important that you clearly formulate what triggers the perception in you.
Negative example: "It is annoying that you are late for the meetings."
First, you evaluate the situation with this formulation and second, you speak from a general perspective. Area 3 shows you why it is so important to stick to your perspective in your formulation.
Area 3: Desire or wish
What do you want from your conversation partner? What is the need behind your feeling? What do you need in order to have your need met?
For example: “It is important to me that we all treat the resources and time of our team members with respect. To me, being on time is an expression of that respect. I, therefore, wish that you will come to the meetings on time in the future."
Important: Reflect at this point whether your conversation partner can contribute at all to the satisfaction of your need. Sometimes we expect a solution from people around us even though he/she has nothing to do with our injured needs. If so, it is important that you take a bit of time to reflect and find out what you need right now in order to feel better and to be able to satisfy your needs.
Step 4: Let the other person have their say and listen
After you have conveyed your perception, the effect, and your wish to your conversation partner, it is important that you also give him or her space to have their say.
For example, you can invite her/him to respond to what you have said with these questions: “How does that sound to you?”, “How do you feel about what I just said?”
Important: Do not interrupt your conversation partner and do not invalidate his/her statements. The other person also has his/her own perception, his/her own feelings and, needs.
Step 5: Signaling support in finding a solution
If your conversation partner finds it difficult to fulfill your wish/need, there is a reason for this. In order for both of you to leave the conversation satisfied and for your desire to actually be fulfilled in the future, it is important that you support your conversation partner in finding a solution. To do this, you can for example ask the following questions: "What would you need to be able to implement my request?", "How can I (or your team) support you in this?".
Finally, I recommend that you take your time to take notes on the five steps mentioned. In the beginning, it is not that easy to communicate according to certain rules. However, after a few conversations, it will become easier and feel natural. All the best for your conversation!
Author: Anna Seger