Some people thrive on conflict. I am not one of them.
But as much as I’d love to live in world of perpetual sunshine and rainbows, conflict is inevitable. I’m not going to agree with everyone. People will try to take advantage. Agendas will differ and obstacles arise.
Difficult conversations simply cannot be avoided.
In the PR world, we pretty much need to play nicey-nicey in order to get on. So how does one prepare for those tough talks when they need to be had?
Here are five things I tell myself before a difficult conversation:
1. Don’t take it personally
People can sometimes say ignorant, mean or snarky things. That doesn’t mean I need to take it to heart. First of all, who knows what this person is dealing with to put them in this state of mind? He or she could’ve been up all night with an infant, just gotten bad medical news or learned their favorite nail polish color was discontinued. That’s about them, not me.
Secondly, I recall Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Then I remember even wiser words: “I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” Point being, words are just words, and they often say more about the other person than they do about me.
2. Be the hero
I never want to be the villain, and I really don’t want to be the victim. So who’s left in our cast of characters? The hero!
And what are some core attributes of a hero? In my mind, the hero is strong but flexible, compassionate, gracious and focused on setting things right in the world. The hero is not a bully, nor does the hero allow others to bully him/her. That’s the role I remind myself to play in these situations.
Ah, listening, the forgotten art. We all know listening is a critical part of effective communication. So why’s it so darn hard sometimes?
Before a tough convo, I remind myself to listen. Even if I have points I want to get across and even when I feel the urge to defend myself, I commit to listening to the other person. Because what they say may mean that everything I was planning to say needs to go out the window. This keeps me open to absorbing the information and then responding in a way that’s appropriate and, hopefully, helpful.
4. Be honest
In order to achieve meaningful change during and after a tough conversation, I believe honesty is key. This means being honest in sharing my own thoughts and concerns, as well as encouraging openness and honesty from the other party.
This doesn’t mean it’s open season for harping on every compliant you have and nit-picking the other person (save that for the Airing of Grievances at your next Festivus dinner). It does mean aiming for authentic connection and mutual understanding.
5. Accomplish something
The last thing I remind myself before a difficult conversation is to try to accomplish something by the end. If I conclude the call or meeting and am able to check something off my list, or I’ve gotten more clarity on how to proceed with the relationship, or I’ve received the information I need to make a necessary change – those are all accomplishments that will have made that encounter worthwhile.
In PR, we’re never far from our next difficult conversation. Please, share your tips for how you prepare in the comments below!