Workshop on Mastering Difficult Conversations

Most days, we encounter conversations of various degrees of difficulty and stress – sometimes at home and often at work.  The most challenging conversations typically involve high stakes, differing opinions, and strong emotions – a cocktail that triggers our self-protective alarm system, which shuts down our higher brain functions.  Simply put, that cocktail drives our biology to respond exactly the wrong way to these conversations.

A difficult conversation may be based on opposing desires or opposing views.  It may be delivering or receiving bad news (employment termination, no promotion, negative feedback, refusal to do what the other wants to do, etc.). Or it may be communicating within the context of a strained relationship.  No matter how accomplished one is, at times each of us contributes to an ineffective or damaging conversation and sometimes avoids conversations that we should be having. 

Mastering difficult conversations requires not only a new skillset, but also a new mindset.  Although this workshop offers new technical skills, its primary value is in developing a different way of thinking.  Some of the mindset shifts initially may feel unnatural, such as:

  • approaching the conversation not as a debate, but as a collaborative dialogue designed to generate mutual understanding, synergy, and a combined pool of meaning.
  • engaging the conversation with genuine curiosity and a learning stance.
  • letting go of the internal conversation in your head and instead attending to what the other person or people are communicating verbally and physically.
  • recognizing the subjectivity of your and their “truth” and “reality” and the role of feelings, identity, and perspective-taking.
  • detangling intent from impact.
  • choosing “both/and” instead of “either/or,” such as replacing the mindset of “being candid or being kind” with “being candid and being kind.”
  • converting conversations into actions.
  • making it safe for others to do all of the above.

At the root of most chronic problems in organizations and personal relationships is our failure to initiate and effectively engage in difficult conversations.  Developing the facility to forge effective dialogue will therefore undoubtedly improve your organization and your personal life.