Executive Leadership Program – Thoughts about Managing Difficult Conversations

One of the more common issues that professionals face in business is how to handle conversations with people we anticipate won’t agree with what we’re going to say. Let’s explore the question, “Why might we disagree?”

From my experience four possible components are at work:

1. We think they are the problem,
2. They think we are the problem,
3. We each make sense in our own story of what happened and, as a result,
4. Discussing or arguing without understanding is unproductive and ultimately unpersuasive.

We are dealing here with something called “different stories”. Why do we see the world differently than other people? It has to do with how we each take in information differently, how we each interpret that information using our own mind filters, and how we each draw conclusions in our own way.

These are often the underlying reasons behind having differences of opinion. We notice different things in terms of information. What we notice has to do with who we are and what we care about. When we have different interpretations it’s because we are influenced by our own past experiences and we apply our own implicit rules. We oftentimes assume that the intentions of another are adversarial, which may not be the case at all. We also assume the intentions of others based upon the impact those intentions may have on us. Finally, let’s face it, we’re often inclined to treat ourselves more charitably than another person might.

So how do we disentangle this dilemma? One can start by asking three questions:

1) Actions: “What did the other person actually say and do?”
2) Impact: “What was the impact of this on me?”
3) Assumption: “Based on this impact, what assumption am I making about what the other person intended?”

These are important considerations upon which to focus when conducting a challenging discussion. Further detail is available and highly pragmatic workable solutions are presented in our Executive Development course, Facilitating Challenging Discussions.



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