“Choosing our own comfort over hard conversations is the epitome of privilege, and it corrodes trust and moves us away from meaningful and lasting change.” – Brené Brown
“We need to talk.” Has there ever been a more anxiety-inducing phrase? Cue pounding heart and an immediate sense of impending doom. We’ve all been there, and no matter which side of the fence you’re on, it’s no damn fun. But sometimes the most important conversations are the least comfortable, and the price you pay for leaving things unsaid can be high. With a little self-awareness, some sensitivity and a healthy dose of courage, those brave conversations can lead to powerful and positive change.
Whether you’re on the receiving end of some tough feedback or are biting your tongue to avoid dishing some out, letting issues simmer away unaddressed can wreak havoc on your stress levels, your relationships and your overall ability to achieve happiness. As difficult as sensitive conversations are, sometimes it’s the only way to resolve the problem at hand and move forward, keeping your boundaries intact. Let this guide set the tone for your next brave conversation.
How to nail the art of the courageous conversation
1. Be clear about the why: Before you start, be clear on why you’re having the conversation and what you want to get out of it. What behaviour is causing the problem? What do you want for you? For the other person? For your relationship? For the other people involved? Keep it focused rather than reeling off a grocery list of grievances.
2. Have a constructive opener: There are less combative ways to start this kind of conversation than “We need to talk”. Absolutely be upfront, but going in a little softer will set the tone for a less antagonistic conversation. Try something like “I think we have different ideas about x, I’d like to talk to you about it” or “I need your help with what happened earlier. Do you have time to talk?”. Also think about your tone of voice and your body language and make sure they’re in sync.
3. Fact, not fiction: Share the facts that led you to this point. Lay out the specifics and explain the logic behind your conclusions. Focus on the behaviour, not the person… just because someone did something stupid, doesn’t make them stupid – or even aware of the impact of their actions.
4. Be genuine: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Authenticity is the key. As the wonderful Brené Brown puts it, “Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind.”
5. Listen intently: Just like a good doctor, you need to diagnose the situation properly before reaching for your prescription pad. Go in with a curious attitude and pay genuine attention to what the other person is saying. Remember a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue, so encourage input and don’t try to fill the silences. Ask the other person how they see it – restate their view to validate their perspective, and be committed to learning, understanding and sharing.
6. Be open: Douglas Stone, author of ‘Difficult Conversations’, believes that “the single most important thing you can do is to shift your internal stance from “I understand” to “Help me understand.” This curiosity may help you see the situation from a different angle. After all, your view isn’t necessarily the only truth – or maybe even the truth at all…
7. Ditch the defensive emotions and the ego: You can’t control the other persons response and you can’t control the outcome of the conversation – but you can control your emotions. If you come in angry, defensive, hurt or scared, things will not go well – remember, emotions are contagious! Likewise, if you go into a conversation telling yourself, “This is going to end badly”, chances are that’s exactly what will happen. Be calm and assume positive intent – as Joseph Grenny, author of New York Times bestseller Crucial Conversations says, “Crucial conversations are 60% getting your head, heart, and gut right, and 40% saying it right.”
8. Solving the problem together: Even though you may have gone in with a particular outcome in mind, be open to other solutions. Brainstorm, ask for input and try to find a sustainable, mutually acceptable solution for moving forward. Respect the other person’s point of view and minimise the collateral damage where you can!
Mustering up the courage to tackle a brave conversation is sometimes the hardest part of the whole process – but as the saying goes, ‘the truth shall set you free’. The key is to reframe the conversation to focus on the opportunities it presents. A Buddhist teacher and author by the name of Roshi Joan Halifax coined the concept of ‘soft front, strong back’, and that’s exactly how you should tackle your next brave conversation – with honesty, compassion and a strong spine.
If you’d like some help on nailing brave conversations, my Recalibrate Self-Paced Coaching Program is available to start now, covering this very topic! Plus, you’ll learn life-long skills like value-setting and taking action to achieve your goals, as well as how to smash through limiting beliefs, bad habits and negative thinking. You can download an Info Pack for all the details, or simply get in touch and we’ll organise a time to chat!
Toggle panel: Yoast SEOOpen document settingsOpen publish panel