Preparing For Difficult Conversations Can Feel Scary
Remember this moment when you were a kid?
“Where are we going, Mom?”
“Well, it is time for your annual checkup. We are going to see the doctor and make sure your ready to go for the school year. And if you are really good, we can get ice cream after your shots.”
Only one word from that conversation stood out…shots. Hello, fear. Hello, terror. If you were anything like me as a kid, you spent the rest of the ride to the clinic planning your great escape.
Now, was the shot really that bad? It pinched, sure, but all in all—not a huge deal.
It was the anticipation of the shot that was absolutely terrifying.
Difficult conversations are similar. The idea of having one with your coworker, boss, or spouse can be downright horrific—inducing sweaty palms, clenched jaw, shallow breathing—the works!
The anticipation of pain in a difficult conversation is always worse than the actual pain of the conversation.
We often find that having the conversation isn’t nearly as bad as we expected upfront. That said, it is difficult when our previous experience has taught us a few painful lessons regarding verbal conflict and the damage it can do.
The good news—like our childhood shots, difficult conversations can be purposed for our good. Needles are lightweight pieces of metal that carry a painful sting—but when put to good use, they can deliver powerful medicine to the body.
Similarly, the painful tool of difficult conversations can serve to bring clarity, strength, and even greater intimacy into a relationship. It takes work, courage, and the right tools to be effective—but the result is always worth it.
We can’t base our future on the pain of the past. So, how do we stop avoiding difficult conversations?
First, think about how many positive outcomes can result from the conversation.
In 25 years consulting, I’ve seen it a thousand times. The very thing that people thought would absolutely destroy a relationship actually ends up making it stronger.
Will it still be painful…even awkwardly so at times?
Was the shot?
However, with courage, you can grow in a crucial skill-set that very few people have—the ability to get through a difficult conversation with greater clarity, resolve, and consensus than before.
If your goal isn’t to win the conversation, but to strengthen the relationship, you must realize that every relationship in life is inevitably going to face conflict.
In fact, the deepest relationships around us (think about the married couple of 50 years) thrive because they have faced down hardship and learned how to overcome it. It was not because they avoided it.
How do you get to greater intimacy, greater authenticity, learning to hear and be heard, and connect at deeper levels? You take the path less traveled and face the conflict with courage and grace.
How do you get there? The only way you get good at anything in life—you practice!
Think about the NBA superstar who has to make two free throws in order to win the championship game.
Sure, he’s practiced those free throws thousands of times, but in that moment, with the world watching, he realizes something we all realize at some point in our life—you’re never able to fully prepare for that moment unless you’ve been in that moment.
Practicing free throws is great, but there’s only one thing that will prepare you to shoot free throws when the championship is on the line.
And that is shooting free throws when the championship is on the line.
Actually walking through that moment, even if it means failure (as it often does), is really the only way to prepare yourself to face that challenge.
Why do some athletes or teams seem to make it deep in the playoffs over and over again, or seem to rise to the occasion time and time again when the pressure is on?
Of course, a whole lot of skill and luck go into it—but there’s also something to say about their experience. They’ve been tested. They are no longer rookies, and they seem to know how to elevate their game when it matters most.
How do we get good at difficult conversations? Learning the tools, and then having the hard discussions we need to have while putting those tools into practice.
Even when we get good at having Difficult Conversations, they never cease to be difficult! That’s not our goal—rather it’s being able to manage our heart in the midst of great intensity.
Get in the game. Practice the tools. Learn to be empathic. Grow in listening.
The larger picture of growing these crucial skill-sets should be your motivation to press past the anxiety about the conversation and actually have it.
The shot does hurt, I’m not minimizing that.
But I wouldn’t be going anywhere near that shot if it didn’t have the potential to save my life one day.
The benefits far outweigh the cost. Leaning into growing in crucial skill-sets and strengthening relationships around me more than make up for the pinch.
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 you 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!