Difficult People (part 2)
Hi welcome to my podcast about getting along with difficult people. Sheila Heen, a co-author of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, she’s spent 20 years developing negiotion theory as part of Harvard’s Negotiation Project.
Difficult conversations happen with people when emotions are high, stakes are high and we expect differing opinions. This often happens when we discuss politics, religion and learn that others really do see the world very differently from us. It is difficult to give negative feedback about someone else’s conduct. It is also difficult to receive negative feedback about our own behaviour.
Difficult conversations are like holding an active grenade with the pin pulled. We can either throw it at the other person. Stating why we are right and giving all our reasons for bringing up this difficult topic. Or we can withhold our feedback and maybe vent to others but not the person directly involved and continue to hold the active grenade until it explodes and one
day we overreact to a seemingly small event. What needs to happen is we need to take a look at ourselves first.
Children who live with open and hostile conflict, learn to handle conflict by throwing active verbal grenades at others. Stating why they are right and ridiculing any resistance. Children whose parents do not argue or demonstrate how to resolve conflict, tend to avoid difficult conversations, as they do not know how to go from disagreement to resolution. Other children
see parents argue but remain respectful and come up with a joint decision. These people learn the skills and have the optimism to face differences between people. These skills can be learned now.
Difficult conversations require tentative phrasing. I’d like to understand more about how you see this topic. Tentative phrasing allows people to increase understanding rather than focus on who is right. In difficult topics it is important to understand what is said and what is meant. Checking this meaning out with the person is very important. When speaking with others about their actions. It is important to differentiate between what they did or what happened and what they intended. It is safest
to assume that you don’t know their intentions so you can ask about them as part of their story. This way you can be clear about the consequences and yet not get pulled into a debate about who is to blame. In fact, there are three stories for every set of facts. Your story, which usually makes them the villain or thoughtless person, their story and an outside observer’s story. This
outside observer’s story is the story which hold potential for finding a solution which will work for both people.
Let’s talk about this third story. First, instead of lobbing an active grenade about why I’m right. Instead, think about being curious and wanting to understand more. Let’s consider the three parts to peoples’ stories. Each person has a version of what happened and their story about that. Second, what is happening right now and each person’s experience. Third, what each
person wants to happen in the future. The facts are only part of the story. What is meaningful is to understand more about the other person’s story and what they are telling themselves about the facts so that we can create this third story.
Finally, if you’re going to ask the other person to offer up difficult
information, it is helpful to start by offering up your own contribution. For example, ”for my part I have not brought this up before and that has contributed to the problem lasting as long as it has.” Even if your contribution is to state that you have been reluctant to bring up this necessary topic until now. Joint contribution helps to shift difficult situations forward
because reciprocity is our strongest norm and usually works in favour of finding a solution. Emotions run strongly even in polite corporate culture and most of the time go unspoken. However, if we name those emotions that run through our conversations, our emotions will actually calm down. Those emotions have be spoken out, and now the other person knows a little more
about the story we are telling ourselves about the facts.
Let’s look at an example, suppose you are going to ask your boss for a raise. So, start with I’m wondering about compensation for the job I’ve done this past year. As my supervisor, I’m curious about what the standards are for compensation. I’d like to talk about this so I know how to achieve higher
goals in this company. Take on your day and put what you’ve learned into action. Be refreshed and notice how much better your mind is able to take on the rest of your day. This content is for educational purposes only not medical advice.
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Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the courage to have creativity in response to it.