3 Ways To Build Difficult Conversation Muscles

Denise Barreto

As part of our rollout of Neon One, we will be hearing from industry celebrated experts in a wide variety of fields and expertise. Today’s educational spotlight comes from Denise Barreto, whose expertise is Strategic Planning / Facilitation.

You know you need to do it.

The fact that you haven’t done it haunts you, your organization and every move you currently make.

The longer you avoid it, the bigger it grows.

Recognize the “it” we’re referencing?

“It” is the difficult conversation you have been avoiding. And you are not alone. Many leaders struggle to have difficult conversations in their nonprofit organizations. Many more leaders ignore the signs that a difficult conversation is needed.

In order to increase our effectiveness and deliver on our intended goals and objectives, we must face our fears about difficult conversations head on. Here are three ways to begin.

Acknowledge Discomfort

Nothing is more disheartening than a lack of validation. People need and want to be validated in most all areas of their lives but especially in work and when supporting causes. People who take the time to lend their talents to organizations or causes especially want to feel substantiated in their work. When we avoid tough conversations and ignore the discomfort created by that action, we are rebuffing our greatest assets, the people that make things happen for us.

Acknowledge the awkward energy. Recognize that people are uncomfortable. Make it a practice to find ways to put words to feelings and energy that is distressing. Noticing discomfort helps to lessen its power and this action opens the door for starting a dialogue.

Be Inquisitive

When opening a door for communication in conflict or difficult situations, please stay “open.” It is very easy to assume we understand or have an idea why there is discomfort. Don’t do this. Make it a practice to keep an inquisitive stance. While you may have a “perfect explanation” for what’s going on, in order to keep others engaged, it is better to assume nothing and table your own theories.  

Ask questions. Specifically, seek to understand what is driving someone’s responses. Reassure people of your commitment to finding common ground and reiterate that your curiosity is driven by a desire to grasp the issues and come to a resolution.

Facilitate Discussion

A festering topic is likely the result of a complex set of issues. If it were easy, you’d have addressed it. Because it is not, it is easy to let it smolder beneath the surface and undermine the work and people doing the work. In those cases, you need to make space and facilitate a formal discussion. Bring a neutral party with specific facilitation skills to help you address the topic. This can be an internal person with facilitation skills from another area unaffected by the discussion or an external neutral party.

Given only the objective to address a tough conversation, a skilled facilitator will help you and your team get to the “heart of the matter” and drive alignment on where to go next. Make it clear that the organization desires everyone’s input on how to move forward. Be real and let people know that all feedback is “not equal” – some feedback we can and will take action from while other feedback is just for us to know and understand.

Difficult conversations never go away. In fact, meaningful work is impossible without difficult conversations as they promote growth and innovation. Like anything else, difficult conversations get easier with practice. Make the effort to build an environment where difficult conversations are addressed regularly and you may find that what was once considered a “difficult conversation” is now just another conversation forward.

Learn more about Denise and her work at Relationships Matter Now. Want to learn more about our partner consultant network at Neon? Click here.

  • Toudjidoum

    Your tip about 3 ways to build difficult conversation muscle is very philosophic.
    And so if someone struggles to reach out a goal out, he must be an uncomfort state, disheartened state, an ankward energy state, he must get patience to work on in order to reach his goal since our organizations are the conflicts ground.
    Nevertheless difficult conversation muscle has to start by ourselves, leaders afterwards we can embed into our daily actions( acknowledge uncomfort).
    On time I’m living that as much as you, author of this article. For instance my strruggle to get the appropriated kélo English center for the Tchadian kids.
    And then we appeal ourselves to a dialog either us, responsibles or not we can creat a dialog climate because of not creating lessened powerful like distressing.
    This time gives more inquisitive stance that is to say more reflection in view to find out what goes or not: that will born dialog.
    As leaders, difficult conversation muscle comes from us as leader, he must be in measure to creat dialog climate in order to resolve problem.
    Brief being over problem one can lead to find a commun ground.
    In addition according to your difficul conversation has to get a specific framework with a defined plan, full of facilitator’s skill.
    In conclusion, we must seize the opportunity of difficult conversation to creat another conversation forward which can be beneficial for our objective if you can have resolved the matter thank to established plan full of skill.
    I truly thank you because of the tip teach me more ground realities.

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