Making Tough Conversations Easier:

The power of mindset.

Posted: November 1st, 2019

There are some conversations that we really wish we didn’t have to have, but whether you call them difficult, challenging, crucial or something else, these are the conversations you cannot (or should not!) avoid in the world of work. We have all been there. A client with unreasonable expectations. An employee underperforming. An irritating co-worker. A boss who doesn’t give you what you need to succeed. These can feel like tough conversations to have and knowing we have to have them doesn’t make it any easier. So, what does? 

Actually, the biggest thing is your mindset. 

Now, I’m not saying structure and frameworks don’t help because they do (and we share our ethree frameworks and tips in our training sessions), but with these conversations, like everything else, you bring about what you think about, because our brain focuses where we tell it to. 

Most of what we communicate is not through our words themselves, but through our body language and tone of voice. If you go into the conversation expecting it to be difficult, then it likely will be, because you will go into the conversation with different body language and a different approach than you would if you were expecting it to go well. If you’re feeling defensive, irritated, frustrated or anything else ‘negative’ then you will very likely communicate that to the other person, no matter what great words come out of your mouth.The other person will pick up on that body language and likely respond to it in exactly the same way, and hey presto! it’s a downhill slide. 

What that means is that we have to go into these conversations with a different mindset. A positive one so that we avoid that slide. Being positive when there is a situation that is challenging to address takes a bit of effort. Here are 3 things you can try right now that may help: 

1. Stop calling them ‘difficult’ conversations. Yes, I know that’s hard. But as soon as you label something ‘difficult’ you think about it differently. Try thinking of them as exploratory conversations. Or coaching conversations. Or frankly any neutral or positive descriptor! Personally, I like ‘exploratory’ because I never go into these conversations assuming I know everything so I want to explore what is going on.

2. If you’re addressing an issue or behaviour, assume good intent. I could (and probably will) write a whole post on the power of intent! But in essence, we assume that no-one is deliberately trying to be frustrating or difficult, they are trying to do something good and just going about it in an unhelpful way. If you can hold on to that notion, you’ll likely approach the conversation very differently.

3. Remind yourself all the things you like about this person. It’s easy to get lost in the thing that isn’t working or the aspect of the situation that isn’t great, but it’s likely not the whole story. Reminding yourself of positive things about the person or situation can help you be more balanced in your approach. 

Remember, you can’t cheat this one! You really have to be in a different head space when you go into the conversation, you can’t just pretend to be positive! These are the conversations that can have the most amazing impact when we get them right, so start noticing the headspace you have before these important exploratory conversations and see if you can adopt a different view. You may be surprised about how much of a difference it makes. 

We offer training in having great conversations and giving effective feedback. In fact, we have a webinar session on the 28th of November if you’d like to know more, or ask us questions. You can sign up here.


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