Making Difficult Conversations Easier
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Making Difficult Conversations Easier






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Making Difficult Conversations Easier Making Difficult Conversations Easier Presentation Transcript

  • Making Difficult Conversations Easier Mostafa Ewees (PhD) Stanford University at California Assistant Professor at German University in Cairo (GUC) EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT An Info people Workshop 2008 Presented by:
  • This Workshop Is Brought to You By the Infopeople Project Infopeople is a federally-funded grant project supported by the California State Library. It provides a wide variety of training to California libraries. Infopeople workshops are offered around the state and are open registration on a first-come, first-served basis. For a complete list of workshops, and for other information about the project, go to the Infopeople website at
  • “ Success Covers a Multitude of Blunders.” – George Bernard Shaw
  • Goals for Today
    • Learn how to “approach” a difficult conversation in a way that assures success.
    • Learn to understand the factors that make some interactions more uncomfortable then they should be.
    • Learn the basics of good interpersonal communication - that makes all conversations easier.
    • Learn how timing and focus can help us make difficult conversations - easier.
    • Learn how to set goals and priorities so that difficult conversations have positive outcomes.
    • Learn the incredible value of reframing in difficult conversations.
    • Learn to recognize and deal effectively with “difficult personalities
  • Our Agenda
    • What Makes Difficult Conversations Difficult?
    • The Basics - Better Interpersonal Skills Make for Easier Conversations
    • Turning Conflict into Cooperation
    • Face to Face - Walking the Walk & Talking the Talk
    • Comments, Thoughts, Conclusions, Evaluations
  • Part I What Makes Difficult Conversations Difficult
    • Let’s remember to think in terms of “individual context.”
      • Different conversations are difficult, for different people, for different reasons.
    • The “difficulty factor” often increases when we:
      • Assume that the other person thinks, or feels, the same way about the problem as we do.
      • Make assumptions about their motivations.
  • Please remember, we’re only human. It is impossible not to make mistakes that may offend others. And, if we are very diligent, we can always manage to be offended.
  • So, Again, What Makes Difficult Conversations Difficult? Is It Difficult Subjects?
    • Like What?
    • ?
    • ?
    • ?
  • Is It Difficult Contexts?
    • Like what?
    • ?
    • ?
    • ?
  • Is It Difficult Roles?
    • Professional roles?
      • What roles?
    • Personal roles?
      • In what way?
  • Is It Difficult Personalities?
    • Traits? Habits? Responses?
    • What makes someone difficult?
  • Is It “Chemistry”?
    • What makes bad chemistry?
    • What makes good chemistry?
  • Some of It Is Fear But of What?
    • The outcomes?
    • Reactions?
    • Consequences?
    • The conflict?
    • Social/conversational discomfort?
    • ?
  • Exercise #1: Your Most Difficult Three?
  • Your Most Difficult Three... Do You See a Theme?
  • Secondary Gain So, what are the benefits of being difficult to talk to?
    • In a psychological context, secondary gain is a term used to describe any “less obvious” benefits of non-productive behaviors or conditions.
  • Exercise #2: Aaaggghhh!!! I’m Not. But, if I were, where would I be difficult to talk to? I Don’t. But if I did, where do I get a secondary gain from being difficult?
  • Part II - The Basics: Better Interpersonal Skills Make for Easier Conversations
  • Attending Skills Are 65-85% of the Game
    • Your posture and body language create a feeling of involvement on your part.
    • Appropriate body movements and attention create a productive atmosphere.
    • Use eye contact appropriately.
    • A calm, quiet, environment allows for better communication.
  • When Is Physical Contact Appropriate?
    • In a professional context – perhaps shaking hands as a type of greeting.
    • In a personal or friendly context (where there is a pre-existing personal relationship).
  • When Is Physical Contact Inappropriate?
    • Whenever there is the slightest chance that it will make someone uncomfortable.
    • When it is incongruous with the social context, situation, topic, or preexisting relationship.
  • Exercise #3: First, Let’s Have an Easy Conversation
  • Exercise #4: Now, Let’s Have an Easy Meaningful Conversation: an Exercise of Interpretation, Insight, and Analysis
  • Part III Turning Conflict into Cooperation
  • Everyone hits the target they aim at, dead center – every time. Unfortunately, a lot of us are aiming too low – or else we're simply shooting at the wrong target.
  • Exercise #5 Let’s Identify Some Scenarios
    • What are some situations that are likely to be difficult for you?
    • What makes them difficult for you?
  • Accept the Undeniable...
    • Wishing that the dynamics or realities of the current situation were different from what they are will not change or improve the reality of “what is.”
    • In a sense, that wish is what has made the situation as difficult as it is.
    • Often what makes a difficult conversation difficult, is that an issue WILL NOT go away on its own. We have to do something – or it stays bad.
  • In a sense we can learn everything we need to know about resolving a problem from a sign we see at any mall in the country...
  • X You are here
  • The First Rule See Solutions
    • We usually make two mistakes...
    • We convince ourselves that there is only one perfect (usually unattainable) solution.
    • We get desperate and convince ourselves that there is no solution.
    • ...usually, neither is true.
  • The Second Rule Acknowledge the Difficulties
    • If the conversation or subject is difficult, say so.
    • It’s OK to say what aspect of the conversation is difficult for you.
  • The Third Rule Remember We Are Only Half of Any Conversation
    • Ultimately, we can’t control how people feel or what they think.
    • We can only do our best.
    • This is both scary and liberating.
  • Keep Light No “Position” Is Totally Intractable
    • Identify the subject - this is harder than it seems.
    • Often we find that the difficulty is not what we “assumed” it was.
  • Use the Magic of Reframing
    • " Framing refers to the way a conflict is described or a proposal is worded; reframing is the process of changing the way a thought is presented so that it maintains its fundamental meaning but is more likely to support resolution efforts...
    • "The art of reframing is to maintain the conflict in all its richness but to help people look at it in a more open-minded and hopeful way."
    • -- Bernard Mayer, in The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution
  • Outcomes and Solutions
    • Don’t stand on principle.
    • Don’t make “winning” your goal. There may be nothing to win.
    • The goal is to MOVE FORWARD!
  • Focus Have an Outcome In Mind
    • Difficult conversations are not casual chit-chat. Don’t pretend that they are.
    • Compartmentalize your emotions.
      • Emotions are not thoughts! They tell us something important is going on – but they don’t tell us what or what to do about it.
      • That’s what thoughts are for.
  • ... A quick word about emotions...
    • FEAR – throws you into an anxiety filled future
    • ANGER – drags you into a revenge colored past
  • Exercise #6 Master the Zen of “No”
  • Separate the People From the Problem
  • Helping “Difficult Personalities”
    • Don’t be a slave to the emotions/tactics of others.
    • The Liar
    • “ Ms Fragile”
    • The Easily Insulted
    • The Instigator
    • And Other Favorites...
    • The Bulldog
    • The Bully
    • The Blamer
    • The Martyr
    • “ Mr. Teflon”
  • The Big Question Confront or Avoid?
    • Timing is everything: the “Broken Window Theory” tells us to address problems quickly...
      • Before incidents turn into patterns.
      • Before small problems become large problems.
      • Waiting is guaranteed to turn a molehill into a mountain.
  • It’s Usually Not “Fact or Fiction”
    • It’s More Like Rashomon – there are often several interpretations to every story.
    • Hidden Issues? You Bet! Frequently what you are arguing about is never the actual problem.
  • Part IV Face to Face Walking the Walk & Talking the Talk
  • Use Good Following Skills to Keep Track of the Conversation
    • Get started - calmly identify the subject
    • Acknowledge your own difficulties in addressing the existing problem – speak for yourself and not for them
    • Ask useful questions – don't assume you know someone else’s motivations or thoughts
    • Silence is golden – allow them to speak. Don’t speak for them.
    • Acknowledge, don’t challenge their feelings.
  • Don’t Know How to Start? Try Something Like This...
    • "I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively.”
    • "I’d like to talk about ____________ with you, but first I’d like to get your point of view.“
    • "I need your help with what just happened. Do you have a few minutes to talk?“
    • "I need your help with something. Can we talk about it (soon)?" If they say, "Sure, let me get back to you," follow up with them.
    • "I think we have different perceptions about _____________________. I’d like to hear your thinking on this.“
    • "I’d like to talk about ___________________. I think we may have different ideas on how to _____________________.“
    • "I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about ___________. I really want to hear your feelings about this and share my perspective as well."
  • Feelings Before Facts
    • Feelings carry more weight than facts.
    • Address your feelings in the dialogue – be open and honest.
    • Ask them about their feelings and acknowledge them – don’t make assumptions.
    • Recognize, acknowledge, and verbalize that feelings are very important – but realize they don’t necessarily dictate actions or outcomes.
    • Be Honest. Be Honest. Be Honest about yourself.
  • Making a Difficult Conversation Successful Is the Sum of All Its Parts. Even When Done Correctly It Is Still Difficult.
  • Exercise #7 Difficult Conversation: Step by Step Practice
    • Take turns role playing a difficult conversation using the scenarios you created.
  • Discussion, Questions, Observations...
  • DON’T FORGET… Please fill out an evaluation before you leave. Thank you and best wishes!