How to Turn Your Difficult Conversations into Triple Wins


How to Turn Your Difficult Conversations into Triple Wins

Whether it’s about your relationship, or money, or something you’ve done, no one likes difficult conversations. There is always the risk that it could go pear-shaped and result in more damage than if the discussion had never happened. It’s not surprising that people avoid conflict like the plague.

Whether you are the initiator or the one summonsed to talk, it takes skill to create a good outcome from a difficult conversation. Elegant conflict resolution is an art form.

The good news is that whatever your track record of trying to sort conflict, you can improve. a bit of conflict muscle and conflict resolution elegance is within everyone’s reach.

There are many resources available with tips and templates for success, focusing on moving from win-lose to win-win. But I want to add a challenge: I am inviting you to create a Triple Win from every difficult conversation.

Related article in this series: We Have to Talk: How Not to Avoid a Difficult Conversation

That’s a win for you, a win for the other person, and a win for everyone you both come into contact with.

It is possible.

There are a few key points to remember:

1.    Quieten the Monster Within

It is likely the ‘Monster Within’ (your destructive thoughts and behaviour) will want to come out to play. Decide who is allowed in. A good choice would be to leave your ‘Monster Within’ at the door, and invite your ‘Mentor Within’ to join you. Nothing like a bit of inner wisdom to hold you to account.

2.    Set Boundaries.

Agree to be respectful, and aim for a great resolution for both of you that will have a positive impact on others as well. Agree to focus on the issue at hand rather than being distracted by other issues.

3.      Ban certain words, mindsets and behaviour

  1. Ban two words. ‘Never’ and ‘always’.
  2. Ban a mindset of win-lose.
  3. Ban monster behaviour. That’s temper tantrums, outbursts, blame, resentment and regret.

4.     Don’t attack or blame.

Own your feelings.  Own your own actions. Take responsibility for everything you say. Use “I” instead of “you” – talk about how what is happening is impacting on you, and how you’d like that to change.

5.     Sandwich the difficult message between positive messages

When you need to say something difficult, start and end with something positive. You could start with ‘because our relationship is important to me’ or ‘because your friendship means a lot to me’ or ‘because we work together every day’. End the conversation with your hope for a good result.

6.     Use a format that’s easy to remember

  • Thank you for….
  • I am sorry that…
  • It is ….
  • Together we can….

I learnt this when teaching adults how to work with children who report abuse. It makes people feel heard and supported: ‘Thank you for telling me. I am sorry that it happened. It is not your fault. Together we can do something about it.

Now think of the format in a difficult conversation:

  • Thank you for agreeing to talk this through with me.
  • I am sorry that we have had some difficult times of late.
  • It is getting in the way of our work and this is how.
  • Together we can do something about it.

7.     Work on the solution together

It is the responsibility of both people to find the best solution to the problem. By having a joint problem (trying to find the solution) you both have a common enemy (the problem) which can bring you closer together. You will both have to make some behaviour changes: be clear about what they are and make a commitment to stick to them.

Don’t expect to feel comfortable immediately: it might take some time to get used to the new status quo. If you get it right – and it does take practice – there will be a positive outcome for you, the person you spoke with, and the people you both have contact with.

By aiming for a Triple Win, you are likely to achieve it. An added advantage is that it takes some of the heat out of the conflict between the two parties because they are working towards a solution for the greater good.

Try it. I’d love to know how you go.

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