If you saw someone beating their child or animal at the park, would you speak up? I sincerely hope so! If you chose not to, I imagine the main reason would be fear of retribution.
This sort of conversation is what is termed “a difficult conversation”. It’s the kind of conversation where there is some adrenaline pumping through your system, but you’re adamant you have to say something.
Or maybe you don’t…..
What is it about difficult conversations that have people running for the hills?
Maybe it’s the fear that they won’t be liked at the end of the conversation? Maybe it’s the fear that the truth could cause offence to the listener? Maybe it’s the fear that they will be accused of bullying for stating the obvious or sharing their perception?
One thing I know is that difficult conversations ARE difficult.
That’s why they’re called difficult conversations and not easy conversations.
But is that a good enough reason to avoid them? HELL NO!!!
Because ultimately, no one wins when we all just pretend that whatever crappy behaviour is being displayed is okay. If it’s left unaddressed and ongoing then neither the person displaying the behaviour nor the person receiving the treatment will benefit.
One of the main by-products of avoiding confronting and challenging conversations is that your boundaries become weak – they have to. The standards you walk past are the standards you accept, so not speaking up means that you are accepting and ultimately choosing what you walk past.
Remember no decision IS STILL a decision; no action IS STILL an action.
As you walk on past (in the park scenario above) you are accepting that the terrible behaviour being displayed is okay. Let’s not pretend that just because you are outraged in your head that you are making ANY sort of difference – you aren’t!
Your lack of action is saying “Yep, beat your kid, I am totally fine with that”
Another by-product of avoiding difficult conversations is thatyou are teaching the world how to treat you, and by not speaking up you are telling the world to treat you how THEY think you should be treated, not how YOU think you should be treated. If a person has a great moral compass, is empathetic and kind, then no problem – but what if they aren’t a nice person?
What if they think it’s okay to belittle you, make you uncomfortable, or intimidate you? Then your lack of action in having the difficult conversation is teaching them that you’re totally fine with being treated like crap – and trust me, they’ll keep on doing it.
The world is in need of more difficult conversations.
Which means the world is need of more courageous human beings.
Because that’s the main ingredient missing in these situations – courage. Courage is the most powerful antidote to fear.
It takes courage to talk to a friend about their crappy behaviour when they are drinking, for example. It isn’t something many friends would say “Yes, pick me – I’ll handle this one” to. But if you genuinely love your friend more than your desire to be liked then you would choose the not-so-easy path and inform them about what happens when they’re drunk and the by-products of their behaviour.
Or you could just bitch about them behind their back……
It takes courage to confront a person who picks on others – usually people who are gentle and timid – and say “mate, your behaviour is not okay!”. Is it easy? No. Do you really want to do it? No. But always remember that the standards you walk past are the standards you accept.
Or you could just bitch about them behind their back….
It takes courage to tell your partner that the current situation is not working for you – that is indeed a really difficult conversation. Yet there are many people who will let weeks, months, even years roll by without facing off with that conversation and potentially changing the nature of their relationship for the better.
Or, yep – you could just bitch about them behind their back….
So how do you go about having a difficult conversation? Great question. I advise everyone I work with (and in my personal life too for that matter) to become better, more elegant communicators. Communication is the cornerstone of every relationship and people who have taken the time to learn how to communicate effectively tend to have better and more harmonious relationships overall.
Yes, they have more difficult conversations because they are confident in getting their message across, but guess what?? Overall, they have far more peace and happiness in their lives, simply because stuff gets cleaned up along the way. There are no festering wounds from 20 years ago that have been left unresolved, and there are no people in their lives who consistently behave badly – they wouldn’t accept it. There is also a whole lot less bitching behind people’s backs because they have the courage to speak their truth.
Remember that your delivery, tone, and choice of words are crucial to great communication. Once emotion is involved however, it’s easy for those three things to fly out the window, I get that. A great way to be more certain in your delivery is to practise what you want to say, or even better – practise in front of the mirror and notice your body language. Body language makes up a huge part of our communication and if your body language is misaligned with your words then your message will fall flat.
Alan Pease is one of the leading body language experts in Australia and is very good at breaking it down. Check out one of his books. Another great communication book is called Working With Difficult People by Muriel Solomon. She has lots of easy to follow scenarios to help navigate those tricky conversations at work.
Find a course, a coach (I am available!), a workshop, or a podcast that can help you craft your language to deliver your message more effectively. Like any other talent, communication can easily be improved with new knowledge and practise. But you have to practise!
Lastly, let me finish by saying that difficult conversations can get hectic and messy – I mean they are difficult conversations for a reason! Often the truth is messy, and people struggle to hear something that they’re not aware of (we call these bad boys “Blindspots”). Be kind with your words, don’t swear, and make sure you leave space for the other person. Also, be very clear on what your intention is when you are choosing to engage in a difficult conversation. What is the outcome that you are looking for? Get honest with yourself: are you doing this because it’s right, or are you doing this to fight and/or feel significant?
Often the outcome we want – to be heard, understood or agreed with – is not the outcome we end up with. Be okay with that!!
What is really important is that you have spoken your truth and honoured yourself, your boundaries, your standards, and anyone else involved in the situation. You have chosen you and there is no greater gift that you can bestow upon yourself than valuing your worth enough to have your own back.
So think about it… what difficult conversation do you need to have today?