Friday, May 18, 2012

Difficult Conversations

In this age of technological innovation, I think most of us have forgotten how to and fear having difficult conversations. We can see this in our professional and personal lives. We resort to text messages and e-mails when we should be having face to face or phone conversations. We find it easier to get everything down in writing because an actual conversation is much harder to do when emotions are involved. This is a prime example of doing something because it is easier, not because it is better.

For many of us, when we think about having a difficult conversation, our stomach drops and our imagination runs wild. We picture the worst happening during the conversation and our fear holds us back from doing what is right. Instead of talking to the person responsible, we may shoot off an e-mail or bitch and moan to a friend or co-worker about what we think is right and what the other person did that is wrong. We don't have the entire story because we are too afraid to discuss it with the other person (or people) involved.

This is a terrible way to treat any relationship. We let things fester and continue to bother us to the point where we can't control our emotions about the situation. We convince ourselves that we are right and work to get other people to think we are too. In most cases, we could have solved the issue with the person involved, but instead have built up so much emotional baggage we can no longer see any other side to the story besides our own. This can cause schisms in teams and will ruin relationships.

A difficult conversation will involve emotions, but the only way to effectively have them is by keeping these emotions in check. We can talk about how something made us feel, but we need to do this from neutral footing. Going on the attack is not helpful and will only make the other person become defensive and more entrenched in their view. Most of the time, there really isn't a "right" or "wrong" solution...there are many shades of gray. We may not have liked what happened, but not liking something doesn't automatically make it wrong.

In any situation we find upsetting, we always assume the other person had the same information we did and chose a different path. While this may be true, often it is not. We owe it to the other person to find out why they did what they did before we jump to judgment. By having a conversation instead of firing off an e-mail, we can get the whole story before making a decision. Being constantly frustrated by others is no way to go through life. Just dealing with it is also no way to go through life. If we constantly ignore the issues instead of speaking to people about them, we allow the frustration to build up until we burst. Yes, many times we need to deal with the fallout from the things that happened, but before becoming frustrated, we owe it to ourselves and other people to get all the facts.

We can't do this via e-mail, at least not easily. Pick up the phone, schedule a meeting, do anything to have the difficult conversation. It won't be easy, but once you start having these conversations instead of letting technology muddle the issue, you will find it becomes easier and easier to have them. Don't let your imagination run rampant and stop feeling as if people are doing things just to spite you. By giving the other person a chance, both can walk away from the conversation with a different perspective and usually a better understanding. It won't always work, but by having the conversation, you have done the best you can do.

As I have found through most of my life, the easiest way to do something is rarely the best.

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