Navigating Difficult Conversations: Definitions and Common Mistakes

Check out the full course – Building Rapport: Communication Skills to Surpass Small Talk

Full Transcript

This video is an excerpt from my upcoming course Building rapport: Going beyond small talk with advanced communication skills.

If you’re interested in the course, check out the link above.

So in today’s video, we’re going to talk about navigating difficult conversations, the techniques for tackling the tough topics. We’re going to call these confrontations. Now confrontations are different from conflicts, which are emotional reactions. So a confrontation is just words expressed assertively.

A conflict would be an unreasonable or unhelpful emotional reaction to a confrontation. In fact, someone can have a conflict without being confronted at all.

But it’s important to separate the two. Just because you’re confronting someone doesn’t mean that you’re in a conflict. Just because someone’s confronting you doesn’t mean that you’re in a conflict. It’s a choice as to how we react.

The most important thing is that difficult conversations are really what builds deep connections. We don’t build deep connections and rapport based on shared pleasant experiences, that just builds comfort with another person. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want to go deep with someone, we have to get into the difficult topics.

No matter how they go, try to see them through to the very end. Even if you’re an amateur, even if you have massive phobia around confrontation, once you’re in one stay as long as you possibly can, because they usually get really bad in the middle and then they get good on the other side, and too many people bail in the middle. If you can see it through to the other side, you usually end up with a deeper connection with the other person.

So quickly, here are the biggest mistakes to avoid.

Hitting someone like a bus. So coming at them when they’re not prepared, and smashing them with a big confrontation that they couldn’t possibly have seen coming. It’s just not helpful for you to get that reaction.

Being vague, indirect, confusing, long winded. Going around the point and being indirect only makes things more difficult. If you’ve got bad news, just deliver it in a single sentence. If you’ve got behavior you want change, just tell them exactly what it is in a single sentence, and never make them guess. Take out all the suspense. Start with the headline: this is what made me mad. Don’t build up to it with a story like you’re trying to sell something on Netflix, right? Give it to them straight up the front, and then some more detail, but only the amount of detail that’s absolutely needed.

Don’t make accusations and judgments without evidence. Everything you say about their behavior, you should either be able to prove or you were both there when it happened and they know what happened. But anything about the way they think, anything happening beyond your eyeline, anything that you can’t really see for sure, you can’t make judgments and accusations about that so avoid telling them what their motives were, what their beliefs were, what their thoughts and feelings were like, why they did it, you don’t actually know. They don’t even really know. You can talk about what happened and how it affected you.

Make sure you manage your emotions. Don’t pretend not to feel, but at the same time don’t allow emotions to suffocate you, don’t drown in them when they happen. Just express them, breathe, take the time you need to process and cool down, and then keep talking. Right? Let them come up, but don’t get carried away from them like a dog being dragged behind a car, right? Just because you’re angry doesn’t mean you need to start shouting. Just because you’re sad doesn’t mean mean you need to run away and cry in your bed, right? Just stay there, process, express, and try to keep constantly breathing and bringing yourself back to a rational level.

Don’t make more than one point at a time, all right? If you’re confronting them on their behavior, it’s one time that it happened specifically. It doesn’t matter if they do it every month, or doesn’t matter if they did another thing that’s similar and that also annoyed you. You might have four things you want the person to change, choose one of them and let go of the other three, at least for now. They should all be separate conversations.

Don’t ignore their reaction or dismiss their response (unless they’re a really narcissistic, toxic person, in which case you should absolutely ignore and dismiss their response – just give them the facts and walk away). But if it’s somebody you want to build a connection with, someone you love, someone you have to work with, let them have their side of the conversation, let them throw back whatever they’re gonna throw back. Remember, you don’t have to debate it. You don’t have to agree or disagree with what they’re saying. Just let the air out of the balloon so that their later response will be more rational.

That being said, just because you’re listening to them do not allow them to redirect the topic or refocus on you. If they start counter accusing you or start changing the topic, you say, we’ll talk about that later. We’ll say that’s not relevant to this conversation. And you don’t ever even like try to prove that it’s not relevant. You don’t give reasons for why we can’t talk about it, because now you’re talking about it. Say we’re not talking about that right now. We’re not talking about that right now. I will park that, we’ll talk about later. Let’s stay on point. Let’s stay on point. And you’re just like a broken record that never even discusses why you’re going to stay on point you. Just stay on point.

Stay tuned for part two coming next week.

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