The Hardest Conversation I Have Ever Had
I get paid a lot of money to help people work through conflict and hard conversations. As a consultant, I am brought in when there is a strain between executive partners and it is affecting the business model.
Over the years, I have added to my portfolio numerous testimonies of people succeeding in difficult conversations after applying the skill sets I teach. I have seen businesses and families literally transformed.
When you are in conflict, I am phenomenal at facilitating. I can help you see your way through the difficulty and find successful win-win outcomes time and time again.
Yet here is the all-too-true reality of the human condition. When I am in my own hard conversation—I absolutely empathize with the struggle.
It can be a challenge to hold onto the skills you have learned when the risk is high and you are spinning in a swirl of negative emotions.
I was recently thinking about a time in my life when difficult conversations were too difficult for me.
I can’t help but think about a specific conversation that not only ran off the rails—it crashed horrifically. That conversation was painful but catapulted me into my now thriving career of consulting on this very topic.
I’d love to share it with you.
When I started in the consulting business, I wasn’t coaching people on how to have difficult conversations.
I had a lot of the skill sets built, taken some training on the topic—but it hadn’t been a focus. Most of my paid consulting was centered on helping accounting firms with strong personalities.
I still had a lot to learn.
On the front end of my career, I partnered with a good friend and business mentor. We went to the same church, had many of the same goals, and I looked up to him.
Before long, we were running three successful businesses. We had our consulting partnership, a store selling spirit wear for the local university, and a business selling lasers internationally.
As with any business, we had our ups and downs. The business selling lasers took a downturn, and for a time, I was working many hours without taking a salary. Eventually, we hit a breakthrough in the business and there was money to distribute.
My business partner made a decision with how to distribute the money that I did not agree with. In fact, I took some offense at his decision.
That was the beginning of one of my worst difficult conversations.
Because things were not going the way I had envisioned, I began to feel restless. I started taking my own path in the consulting business, looked at other churches to attend, and allowed the offense build.
Eventually, I knew I needed to confront my business partner on how I felt about the recent business decisions he had made.
In previous blogs, I have talked about why hard conversations are so hard. Often, there is a high level of risk that adds a great deal of pressure.
Let me recap for you the risk I was about to face in this difficult conversation.
Not only were we friends, we were business partners of not one, but three businesses.
We were entwined on so many personal and professional levels. I knew that if this conversation didn’t go well, my life could look quite different on the other end of it.
As we started the conversation, I immediately felt my offense creep to the surface. I expressed it. My business partner became offended by the fact that not only did I disagree with his decision, but I was offended by it.
Feeling uncomfortable with the perceived attack on his ability, he kicked into “business” mode. He took on a very professional demeanor and became cold and distant in his responses. This only served to offend me more.
I realized that the conversation wasn’t going well. But instead of slowing things down so we could hear each other out, I picked up the speed.
One of the things we coach is to slow the conversation down. When things start to derail, take a break. I did the exact opposite.
I didn’t like what I was feeling, so I wanted the conversation to end.
Our dialogue was hitting on a few of my own insecurities. In retrospect, issues around compensation are rarely about the money. Oftentimes, it is tied to how we view ourselves. The core issue for me was tied to value. I didn’t feel like I was being valued by my business partner in the way that I should be.
I told him I wanted out. I wanted out of our business interests and I wanted to separate our personal lives.
He became more offended and things just unraveled from there.
We stopped doing consulting work together. I ended up switching churches, sold my part of the spirit store and got out of the laser business.
Looking back, we should have consulted a third party facilitator—taken the offense out of the conversation before we made such big business decisions.
If I could give my younger self some advice—I would tell myself to slow the conversation down and not let the pain drive it off the tracks.
We have talked about how emotions are an important part of any difficult conversation because they bring needed information to the table—but they should never be allowed to lead.
Letting my offense lead that conversation brought me to a few very big decisions that should have had more thought.
Even though those choices eventually led to many successful business changes, the decisions should not have been driven by emotion. I look back at that time as a turning point that worked for my good, but I regret the way that I handled it.
A couple months after our difficult conversation we both owned our part of the conflict. We asked for forgiveness for any lingering offense and went down different professional paths. Our friendship never really recovered.
So why share this with you now?
Because we all struggle with hard conversations.
Over the years, I used that conversation as a catalyst for learning more about how to have them. Hard conversations became a focus of my consulting and it was around that time that my consulting practice really took off.
We all have had our own personal “worst” difficult conversation. Don’t let that conversation prevent you from trying again. Let those perceived failures be catalysts for future success.
These are just a few insights that will help you navigate those critical conversations in your life and career, but there’s so much more.
There are powerful tools that can really help y
ou become more effective, and we at Ember Learning are here to help. With over 25 years of professional consulting in top businesses around the country, we want to share some of our top insights with you.
Download our FREE PDF “15 Ways to Turn Hard Conversations into Win-Win Dialogue” now!