Communication skills

Effective communication skills: Managing difficult conversations

- October 2, 2005 2 MIN READ

Effective communication skills are critical to running a successful business. However, every now and again, we inevitably have difficult conversations. Here are some tips on how to face up to the task.

The trick with effective communication is that all things being equal, it is pretty straight forward. But things are rarely equal! It’s far harder to achieve important outcomes when opinions differ and emotions and stakes are high.

I’ve repeatedly noticed that many business owners and managers – people in general in fact – either don’t take on the tough issues or they don’t handle them well. Even worse, often difficult conversations are handled in a way that damages their relationships.

The following effective communication skills will help you stay in dialogue when your body wants to fight or flight but your head knows that you need to stay and talk to achieve what you really want.

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  • These simple questions will serve to destabilise your emotional rollercoaster: What do I really want for me and for the other person/people?; and If I was committed to achieving this end, would I be behaving in this way? If not, how would I behave?
  • A lack of safety is the major killer for dialogue. Look out for signs that trust has gone, disconnection has started and fear of some type is creeping in. Most people know when this is happening for themselves or for the other person.
  • Make it safe by backing out of the conversation and finding mutual respect and mutual purpose. How can you respect the other person and focus on what is the shared outcome you both want?
  • Learn to make the distinction between what is fact (i.e. what was actually said or done) and what is the story you have made up or meaning you have given to this fact. Learn to state both for what they are. For example a client doesn’t return your call when they said they would about some work – fact – and you have decided this means they have gone with another supplier – meaning or story. What other meanings or stories can you think of that could be sourced in this fact?

Of course this is just the beginning, if you want to know more, I can thoroughly recommend that you read Crucial Conversations – Tools for talking when stakes are high that specifically deals with managing difficult conversations. These points come from this book.

You can order a copy of Crucial Conversations from Amazon.