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a blog by Chris Barrow

Spit or Swallow? – Keeping calm during difficult conversations.

A guest post by Lisa Bainham

Test Yourself!

When we embark on what we may perceive as a difficult conversation with our team, its very easy to get drawn in without being prepared. We want to be ready to find a solution in a calm, open and non-conflicting manner. Sometimes difficult conversations can come out of the blue and need to be deferred before we address the issue or concern at hand.

Rule number 1. Don’t get drawn into potentially difficult conversations on the hoof. This can often be fuelled by emotions, and you will not be prepared.

Rule number 2. Be prepared and consider the objective and how this needs to end… sometimes, words can’t be taken back.

Rule number 3. Accept that sometimes we need to swallow our pride if we have misunderstood a situation. Its ok to admit we are wrong. Spitting out excuses will only make the situation more difficult. (I could not resist the dental pun of spit or swallow. Sorry) do we set the scene to create a productive, calm conversation and look to resolving an issue? I try to follow some simple steps to help me navigate difficult conversations, but it mostly involves testing myself with the following checks:

· Focus on the topic in hand – Don’t have a list. Tackle one thing at a time. If the conversation drifts, then re-route and get back to the topic in hand.

· Avoid criticism – don’t place blame or be critical.

· Keep an open mind – start by explaining what the aim of the conversation is. Show that you want to find a solution.

· Weather check yourself – how are you feeling today, tired, irritated, stressed? Be self-aware of your emotions and how you may come across. Check your body language and tone.

· Use I feel statements – non accusing statements such as “I feel that we are in disagreement about…” or “Its my perception that you aren’t aware of how you are upsetting other members of the team”

· Reflect – is there a root cause of the conflict or some key information you aren’t aware of. Place yourself in their shoes and let them know you want to understand their viewpoint.

Ask questions such as “How do you feel we can move forward?” “Please help me understand how we arrived at this point”

Can you focus?

Can you avoid criticism?

Do you have an open mind?

Can you not be accusing?

Are you able to reflect?

How are you feeling today?

Within our practices its vital to provide support and resources to the team for managing difficult conversations and conflict. There will always be differences in opinions and attitudes but promoting openness using the above checklist is a great way to encourage honest positive culture within your team.

Address the problem, not the person and identify the cause of the conflict, promote tolerance but always focus on sitting down and getting these conversations sorted sooner rather than later.

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