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  1. 1. INDEX A B TABLE OF CONTENTS LEGAL NOTICE legal NOTICE © 2010, Aled Davies ALL RIGHTS RESERVED All work contained in this book is the copyright of the author. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted for resale or used by any party without express written permission from the author. LEGAL NOTICE While all attempts have been made to provide effective, verifiable information in this document, the author does not assume any responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, or omissions. Any slights of people or organizations are unintentional. The information contained in this package does not make any claims or guarantees. Many variables affect each individual’s results. Results will vary. The author does not make any promise of your personal success. The author has no control over what you may or may not do with this information, and therefore cannot accept the responsibility for your results. Any and all references to persons or businesses, whether living or dead, existing or defunct, are purely coincidental. 2 www.resolvegb.com
  2. 2. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION the difficult CONVERSATION Thinking like a mediator when addressing conflict with others enables you to remain resourceful, curious and compassionate. In this series of mini-books you will learn how to apply the principles and skills of a mediator to deal with a range of conflicts that you might experience at work. The Difficult Conversation There have been many books written on the subject of how to have difficult conversations; most are lengthy, comprehensive and useful. This mini-book is your survival guide: It’s the kind of book you’d expect to find in a life raft - enough information, strategies and top tips to help you navigate the turbulent waters of a difficult conversation, no more, no less – and of course, it’s free! How would you deal with each of these scenarios? Imagine you are in the middle of a team meeting. You could be exploring ways of sharing best practice across the team or improving sales performance or discussing how to allocate budget for the next financial year. You have some valuable ideas that you think will make a difference but you are new to the team and slightly apprehensive about making suggestions as your boss hasn’t been particularly welcoming towards you so far. You take a leap of faith and put your ideas forward at which point your boss cuts you down before hearing your ideas in full, and follows with a snide 3 www.resolvegb.com
  3. 3. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION remark about you being a new member of the team and how you should know your place. You’re angry, embarrassed and upset by the reaction yet you persevere and when asked for your views on another topic you are met with the same reaction from your boss. First things first – Preparation Now you could argue that if you find yourself in a life raft – you’ve probably had very little time to prepare, which is true. But you’re not in a life raft and therefore preparation is critical. The goal of preparation is to maximise the chances of you being at the helm, and I’m not talking about controlling the conversation, I am simply talking about being in control of yourself. Difficult conversations will generate higher than normal levels of anxiety for most people, and therefore having the capacity to represent yourself in a way that is coherent and true to your values is important. By preparing in advance will ensure you don’t sink in those vital first swells of the conversation. I’m not advocating analysis paralysis either – just the essentials. So here they are: Get your Head Straight How you think will affect how you feel which will affect what you say – this is a fact. So your first goal is to untangle your thinking. It is normal and natural for most people attempting a difficult conversation to have morbid fantasies about what they’d like to say and do to the other person. This feature rarely goes away despite how experienced and practiced you are at this. It is also normal to think the other person is in the wrong, has behaved abhorrently, and it’s your job to set the straight. 4 www.resolvegb.com
  4. 4. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION It’s also normal for you to suspect that their actions are part of an elaborate campaign to get at you. We make judgements about other people, attributions about their motives and intentions, none of which are useful in the context of your desire to have an effective and difficult conversation with your boss. This is where thinking like a mediator is a powerful aid to support you in the conversation, and requires you to change the orientation of your thinking from suspicion, blame, and judgement to curiosity, contribution, and compassion. Suspicion to Curiosity By accessing a genuine mindset of curiosity (the kind of curiosity you imagine a young child experiencing in their very early years), you can let go of the natural inclination to be suspicious. Because when you are genuinely curious you become open to learning. After all, one of your goals should be to have a mutually learning conversation – where you create the context for a conversation, and where you both can learn. Embedded in this mindset is also the assumption that you both are unwittingly contributing to the problem; more about this later. Top Tip – Assume that there’s a glimmer of a possibility that you’ve missed something; despite how convinced you might be to the contrary. Entertain this assumption and act like it is true. What’s the worst thing that could happen if this assumption were true? What’s the best thing that could happen if this assumption were true? 5 www.resolvegb.com
  5. 5. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION Blame to Contribution The easiest thing to do in this situation is to apportion blame on the offending party – the perpetrator of the crime. After all, if it wasn’t for their behaviour you wouldn’t be in this predicament, right? This kind of thinking will achieve one thing – generate defensiveness and resistance in you and them, which isn’t a good starting point for the conversation. However reflecting on your contribution to the problem isn’t an easy road to take and not for the faint- hearted. Top Tip – Ask yourself if there was the slightest possibility that I in some way have contributed to this, as crazy as it sounds, what could that be? After all if you are genuinely curious and are already assuming that you might have missed something, then couldn’t your contribution be the one single variable that you’ve missed. Could my contribution be lurking in my blind spot (this also requires you to assume that you are fallible and have a blind spot)? And if so could it be holding me back both personally and professionally? I’d want to know about it, wouldn’t you? Judgement to Compassion Starting out in a conversation like this whilst being rooted firmly in a place of compassion is really stacking your deck. Your compassion strategy should be a two-pronged approach: Compassion for yourself and compassion for the other person. Accessing a state of compassion provides a blanket of safety for you because you’re just doing the best you can with honourable intent. Whereas compassion for your colleague helps you to be open to their perspective. Top Tip – Imagine your colleague is an innocent child, not yet wise to the world. I’m not encouraging you to be patronising in any way but just to think about them as a human being with vulnerabilities, like you, and that they are just doing the best they can with what they’ve got. 6 www.resolvegb.com
  6. 6. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION All these mindsets are in some way interrelated and each one supports the other. Only approach your conversation when you are confident your thinking is consistent with these attitudes. Get your Story Straight Getting your story straight is a vital part of the preparation process because it accomplishes three things: 1. Recalls what happened (your version of events) 2. Clarifies why this matters to you 3. Clarifies your outcome All three are critical components of the difficult conversation. First – Recalling what happened involves recalling what was said and done, leading up to, during and after the ‘incident’. These details include both the content of what was said and the quality of what was said and other defining moments such as a particular expression or hand gesture. Top Tip – Imagine you had a video recorder of the event and were able to play back the verbal and non-verbal components what would you hear and see. Note this down, particularly the significant bits. The data you record needs to be fact-based and not inference-based. In other words if you were to pause the playback, you could say ‘you see just there when you said XYZ and look you see how you rolled your eyes at the same time’, which is fact-based rather than ‘you see just there you were so condescending and rude’, which is inference-based. Second – Clarifying why this matters to you is the most important part of the conversation. It is after all the reason you are having the conversation. Conflict and difficult conversations are difficult because they involve something that matters to us. There are two elements to this, first: Emotion – How were you feeling when this ‘incident’ happened and how were you left feeling afterwards. Contrary to popular belief feelings are important and they do matter. Articulate your 7 www.resolvegb.com
  7. 7. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION feelings, were you feeling hurt, upset, angry? Needs – Why did this ‘incident’ affect you? Did you feel let down? Did you feel you weren’t being treated fairly? Or that your views, or you, yourself, were being disregarded? Another way of looking at this could also be from the perspective of how your hopes or expectations weren’t met. Perhaps working productively and effectively is an important aspect of collaborative working and you’re left feeling concerned that this might not be achieved as things stand. This is very important information to decipher because it’s going to form the foundation by which you’ll have the conversation. Finally – What is your end game? Understanding your outcome for the conversation will help steer you towards a new destination. Do you want them to change their behaviour, or apologise, or do something else? Think about your outcome and any requests you might want to make at the end. Emotional State Management – Final Preparations There are two key strategies that are normally disregarded in the moments leading up to a difficult conversation, the power of which is grossly underestimated. They are breathing and Internal Dialogue Control. Breathing – Contrary to popular belief breathing is important, yet so many people forget to do this when nervous or anxious which only serves to exacerbate their problems. When we find ourselves in stressful or anxiety provoking situations we tend to breathe differently. There is a sociological 8 www.resolvegb.com
  8. 8. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION explanation to this that dates back to primitive beings. Thousands of years ago, confronted by a sabre tooth tiger, our inbuilt safety features ensured that blood was instantly diverted to our limbs so that we could run away or stay and fight. This is called the “Fight-or-flight response”, which back then, I imagine, was useful. Our heart rates increased and the desired chemical stimulants were released throughout the body to activate this phenomenon. Today, however, our sense of what jeopardises our safety has changed and to some extent become slightly distorted. Unfortunately evolution has yet to catch up. So when confronted by situations where we feel threatened, our bodies react in much the same way as they would thousands of years ago. That’s a crude explanation but in a nutshell, that is what happens. The solution? Diaphragmatic Breathing. When stressed or anxious we now trigger short sharp shallow breaths, which perpetuate feelings of stress and anxiety. This is normal and natural, by the way. One of the problems with this is that we are not fully oxygenating our system for action. The other problem is that we are promoting the release of adrenaline and cortisol through our bodies – which isn’t a good thing when we want to stay calm and composed. Diaphragmatic breathing (commonly known as deep-belly breathing) helps reduce the release of adrenalin and the toxic chemical cortisol at the same time increasing the oxygen volume to the brain and other vital organs. It’s not rocket science and it’s so easy to do. Top Tip – Imagine you are inflating a football (if you are American – soccer ball) which is located in your lower abdomen. As you slowly breath in you’ll begin to notice how the ball begins to inflate thus expanding your tummy outwards, unless your tummy already sticks out in which case it will get bigger, only temporarily until you release the intake of breath! Your in-breath should last for at least 5 seconds or until your tummy and lungs are fully inflated. Next, hold your breath for 5 seconds and then slowly exhale through pursed lips for another 5 seconds. Repeat this for 4 or 5 cycles and notice how a sense of calmness begins to descend upon you! Not quite, but it’s a whole lot better than panting and you’ll quickly notice the subtle benefits. 9 www.resolvegb.com
  9. 9. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION Internal Dialogue Control (IDC) - We all have the capacity to talk to ourselves from time to time, some more than others. This is a normal and natural process, so don’t be alarmed! Our internal dialogue can be a resource to us and at the same time can be a hindrance to us. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that we’ve performed well during a work task such as a difficult conversation with a colleague or customer or to reassure ourselves that things will turn out well despite our concerns. Internal dialogue becomes problematic when used for self-criticism, or worse, when used to put ourselves down. For example, coming out of a challenging meeting and saying to our self: ‘That didn’t go well; I can’t believe I forgot to clarify that last question, by the end of it they looked a bit confused.’ is one thing. Coming out of the same meeting and saying to yourself: ‘I am such a stupid idiot, why did I ever think I could influence this person, they must think I’m such a loser....’ will have a much greater impact on us than the first comment because in this last comment we make a toxic generalisation about our identity which will inevitably affect our self-esteem. Our internal dialogue plays a vital part in our Emotional State Management. Top Tip – Listen to your internal dialogue as you prepare for a difficult conversation. Your goal is to filter out any toxic comments or statements, and replace them with more compassionate ones. Remember, earlier I talked about self-compassion; this is one way of doing it. Toxic Internal Dialogue Compassion Filter Compassionate Internal Dialogue I should be able to handle this, I’m not I know this is going to be a difficult and uncomfortable letting him walk all over me again – just interaction and there’s a good chance I might feel wait and see. threatened or vulnerable. But if I do, then I’ll simply say so and ask for a timeout. If he speaks to me in that tone of voice It’s going to be a real challenge for me not to react again, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. to the way he might talk to me. Maintaining my composure and representing myself well is important for me. You have done all you need to do to prepare for the conversation, you are ready. 10 www.resolvegb.com
  10. 10. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION The Conversation It’s only fair given that you’ve had time to prepare that you allow the other person time to plan if they want to. The last thing you want to do is to blow all this wonderful preparation by attempting to hijack the conversation. All that will happen is that they’ll get defensive, which will trigger your defensiveness and the conversation will slowly turn into a mush – Man Overboard! You just don’t want that. After all, you are thinking compassionately aren’t you? So logistics and rules of engagement are the building blocks to an effective conversation. Logistics This is about planning the where and when aspects of your approach. Announcing at the start of the team meeting that you’d like to raise this issue with your boss may not be the best time for them, you, or other members of the team. And besides the skills you’ll need for that are way too sophisticated for me to cover in this guide. Nor do you want to choose a time when they are about to walk into a board meeting, or as they get into their car at the end of a working day. Choose a time and a place that will be most convenient for you both, and also reduce your preoccupation with the fact that others may listen in on your conversation. Choose a time and a place where you both are likely to be psychologically available. Choosing where and when is important to stack the deck in your favour as well as theirs. Remember your goal isn’t to trap, trick, or surprise them. 11 www.resolvegb.com
  11. 11. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION Rules of Engagement The idea of planning your approach in the way I am proposing is designed to maximise the chances of you both talking about what you intend to talk about and reducing the likelihood of being side- tracked by other matters. It also ensures that you both feel as comfortable as is possible to talk to each other, and that you are on as much of an equal footing as possible. It would be unusual for you not to feel apprehension and some level of anxiety at this point, but the goal is to be in charge of yourself (Emotional State Management) so you can think clearly and communicate coherently. Signpost and Roadmap Signpost This is where you provide a headline of the conversation you want to have with the other person – a signpost of what’s coming if they choose to accept. It might sound something like this: “I’d like to talk to you about the team meeting yesterday, specifically how I felt when you stopped me mid-conversation and said something about my role. This happened a number of times and I’m upset about that. I’m also puzzled as to why you responded that way so I’m keen to find out what caused that.” You are briefly describing the ‘incident’, sharing your feelings, and also demonstrating curiosity by wanting to understand what might be behind it all. “My goal for having this conversation with you is to clear up any misunderstandings that may exist between us, and also ensure that I can work effectively with you and the team in the future.” You are 12 www.resolvegb.com
  12. 12. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION expressing your goal for the conversation and are being transparent and succinct about what you want. At this stage I would not be leaping to attributions about wanting to be treated respectfully in future and included in the group – this can come out later if you feel necessary. “I’d like to do that now if that’s ok with you?” If now isn’t a convenient time I’d like to agree a time that is sooner rather than later, as this is important to me. What works best for you?” It would be easy for your boss to avoid this conversation, and probably most desirable, so notice how you are assertively narrowing down his options; talk now or agree a specific time. If all goes to plan and the other person is willing to talk now you can move on to the next stage - The Roadmap. Roadmap You’ve got their agreement to talk about it, now you need a framework for the conversation. Proposing this gives the conversation a structure and a methodical pattern. It also reduces the possibility of the conversation deviating from your initial proposal; subject to it being accepted by the other person, of course. This next bit could sound something like this: “I want to suggest a way to do this that gives both of us time to think and respond to what’s being said. I’m open to the possibility that I’ve either missed something or in some way contributed to this, so I’d like to hear your reactions to what I’ve got to say and also get your perspective.” “Here’s how I thought we could do it: I start by describing my perspective, what I remember about what happened and get your reaction.” “I’d like to say how it left me feeling and the impact I think it could have on me, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.” 13 www.resolvegb.com
  13. 13. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION “I’d then like to explore ways between us that could ensure that when we work together in future we work effectively together.” “Do you have any questions or concerns about what I‘m proposing?” This is the point where you begin your conversation. Now is your chance to expand on what you’ve already signposted to them that you’d like to talk about. Describe what was said in more detail, recalling specific words or expressions, and expand on how this left you feeling and give a context to it. Remember: • Be compassionate to yourself and acknowledge to yourself that it has taken a huge amount of courage to raise this in the first place. • Be compassionate to the other person, there’s a good chance they’re feeling rotten, guilty or uncomfortable inside. • Be curious and listen to their version of events, this is their version of the truth which is equally as valid as your version. • Be curious to the possibility that you have in some way unwittingly contributed to this problem. You are keen to learn if this is the case. After all, it is a shared problem. Being open to hearing about your contribution will massively reduce defensive routines in you and them. Top Tip – If they recall the ‘incident’ differently to you, avoid getting caught up in a circular argument about who’s version of events is the truth. It’s likely you’ll never agree on this. Simply say how you each see things differently and what matters more is how you were left feeling as a result of your experience of the ‘incident’. 14 www.resolvegb.com
  14. 14. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION Problem Solving and Solutions Assuming the conversation has gone well so far, which if you have followed this strategy there’s a good chance it has, you are now ready to move into the final part of the conversation: Problem Solving and Solutions. Remember, your goal is to clear up any misunderstandings that may exist between the two of you and also ensure that you are able to work effectively with them and the team in the future. Keep this in mind throughout this next part, as this will be the criteria by which you will judge the effectiveness of any solutions you create between you both. Transition Between Phases When making the transition between exploring and clarifying each others understanding to problem solving and solutions, remember to summarise where you have both got up to so far in the conversation and check that their understanding is consistent with yours. Then ask if they are ready to move on, and begin generating some ideas on how to work together more effectively in the future. There are a couple of ways of doing this: First is to propose ways which you think would help in your endeavours to work effectively. You may have already formed some ideas in your head as you’ve been talking – now’s your time to suggest them. Remember, this is a shared problem and that requires a shared solution, one that you both are accountable for and are internally committed to fulfilling. Another way is to ask them if they have any thoughts about how you could work together better and avoid this situation in the future. Top Tip – Expressing your outcome as a future-orientated outcome such as ‘working together effectively in future’ rather than rooted in the past such as ‘avoid this situation happening again’ can sometimes be easier to digest and promote a generous spirit during problem solving. 15 www.resolvegb.com
  15. 15. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION Narrowing your Options into a workable agreement During the process of generating options avoid evaluating them at this stage – consider this if you like, a brainstorming process whereby any idea will be entertained. When you feel you have exhausted ideas, you can now begin the process of narrowing them down into workable solutions. Make sure that the robustness of your solutions is thoroughly tested. In other words don’t agree to anything that you feel might not be sustainable. If you have concerns about the sustainability of a solution, say so right there and then, and share your reasoning. It is important that you both can feel internally committed and accountable for any agreement. SMART Agreements The more specific you can design your agreement the more likely it will be sustainable. So, be: • Specific – who, what, where, when and how • Measurable – how will you know you’re on track or off track • Achievable – do you have the capacity and resources to fulfil this agreement • Realistic – under the circumstances is this a realistic expectation • Time dependent – frequency and timeliness of commitments Concluding Well done, you’re almost there! Closing off is an important bit. During this final chapter you will be thanking them for their time, consideration and patience. You might want to acknowledge that this might have seemed like a mechanical approach to working through a problem and appreciate them for sticking with it, and that you hope they found it useful. Also say how much you are now looking 16 www.resolvegb.com
  16. 16. CHAPTER 1 THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION forward to working with your colleague in the future. That’s it, you’re done. Typical reactions to this approach It’s likely most of you are reading this and thinking that this is a fairly radical approach to having a conversation about something relatively insignificant. Yes, you’re probably right and I come from the school of ‘nipping it in the bud’. Most people avoid going down this route and say to themselves ‘that’s all a bit too heavy or serious, it isn’t that big-a-deal’, which is one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it (through my compassionate lenses) is ‘I just don’t know how to raise this issue with my boss, this is a new way of communicating with them, one which I’m unfamiliar with and I’m worried they won’t take me seriously or think I’m a bit strange...’, sounds familiar? Whenever I meet parties or litigants prior to a mediation meeting and I ask them how all this started, they invariably reply by saying; “Well, it’s funny you ask that because it all started over something really small and insignificant...” I rest my case! Top Tip – The smallest issues can turn into the biggest problems and the irony is that most people overestimate the risk of addressing the conflict early, and underestimate the consequences of avoiding it and doing nothing. Yes, following this approach is different, but as someone once said ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’. Do something different. 17 www.resolvegb.com
  17. 17. CHAPTER 2 ABOUT ALED about ALED Aled is an experienced mediator and facilitator first cutting his teeth as a mediator in South Africa in the late nineties during which time he was working in the diamond mining industry. He later raised private equity and started up his own diamond operation in Angola where his mediation and facilitation skills were instrumental in building his business and surviving to tell the tale! Aled now runs his consultancy Resolve (GB) Ltd whose principle aim is to help their clients address unresolved conflicts and improve their operationally effectiveness. Aled applies his expertise to help his clients address conflict and the undiscussable issues that affect business performance and stakeholder relationships. 18 www.resolvegb.com
  18. 18. CHAPTER 2 ABOUT ALED With a FTSE100 client list, Aled’s facilitation and mediation expertise are sought after and he works with senior management teams and executive boards to develop their thinking and improve the way they communicate not just with each other but with key external stakeholders. As a result his clients find that important decisions get made quicker, are of significantly higher quality, relationships radically improve and overall team effectiveness increased. Aled also trains aspiring commercial and workplace mediators and co-leads Europe’s leading Commercial Mediation Training Programme, alongside David Richbell and Jane Gunn of MATA. He regularly speaks at international mediation conferences and at client conferences on a range of subjects. He is also a member of the Next Century Foundation, a political think tank originally set up to broker peace in the Middle East through track two diplomacy, the organisation now has a broader remit and works in other conflict zones around the globe. Aled is also a trustee and volunteer of a West London Mediation charity. As a graduate of Loughborough University Aled is naturally an avid rugby supporter, Welsh rugby in particular and early in his rugby career he made appearances for the Leicester Tigers and Cardiff RFC before going on to play in South Africa. He has now settled in London where he lives with his wife and two young children. To find out how Aled can help your organisation, contact: aled.davies@resolvegb.com or call +44 (0)207 1270045 19 www.resolvegb.com