What IS a ‘tricky conversation’? You probably already know the answer and I’ll bet you can think of some people and conversations that you would immediately file under ‘tricky’. But just to clarify, a tricky or difficult conversation might be one where some or all of these elements apply:
- The stakes are high: one or both of you has a lot to lose;
- You feel very uneasy (and possibly queasy) even thinking about it;
- There’s a lot that usually goes unsaid and gets bottled up, just to keep the peace;
- You are anxious it will spiral into a confrontation (it may have before).
Sound familiar? And who might these conversations be with?
- Your partner/spouse/date
- A parent
- Your boss
- A colleague
- A friend
- A member of your team
- Customers or clients
Yes, that’s a pretty wide field and that’s partly the point: it would be an unusual week if we didn’t have to have a tricky conversation of some kind. Yet so often the default strategy for many of us is to avoid the conversation at all costs. That might just be the right approach; however, it’s worth stopping to think.
So try this exercise: first, make a long list of the risks of having this tricky conversation. What would the consequences be if the conversation somehow went wrong? How would you feel? What is the worst that could happen? Think too about the risks to the other person – what is at stake for them? Note as many factors as you can.
Next, make a list of all the potential rewards of having this conversation. Will it simply allow you to get stuff off your chest or do a bit more than that? Could you be rewarded by a better working relationship with this individual? What positive gains might there be for the other person? Will other people benefit if the two of you clear the air and iron out old disagreements?
If you can, talk through your risks and rewards lists with someone you trust and get their input. It might be that they see the situation differently, or if they don’t know the other person they may offer suggestions you would never have thought of.
Now it’s over to you to weigh up the risks and rewards… is it still worth avoiding that conversation?