What You Tell Yourself Matters with Difficult People and Situations

I have blogged on How to get along with difficult people, dealing with difficult people, and managing difficult conversations. However, have you thought about your own thoughts before you begin a difficult conversation?

If you have already labeled the conversation or person(s) you will be interacting with as difficult this already has triggered chemicals and hormones in your brain that have predisposed you to view the situation as negative. This initial set of triggers has added to your stress and possibly nervousness. This may predispose you towards anger or becoming upset.

The neuroscientists at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley offer you a host of references related to stress, anger, and being upset. These are great references. However, how you proceed is up to you. As a mediator and negotiator, so much of what I do has to do with reframing the conversation. Think about reframing with what may be your difficult conversation or situation. For example instead of having to say “no” to someone or your boss, you may want to present alternatives or implications of doing the activity on other priorities or concerns. Don’t provide feedback, instead provide feedforward. So much of this has to do with your own mindset.

Be honest with yourself, but keep it in context. Don’t be an Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh. Eeyore has a pretty negative opinion about others and life in general. You don’t need to be unrealistic either. Look at the situation and be honest with yourself without assessing either of the stinky twins of Blaming Self (BS) or Blaming Others (BO). It is important to frame it as positively as possible. Think about what might be the best outcome for you. Think of what might be the best outcome for the other person. What are some phrases that you can think of ahead of time to help you in the situation after considering reframing the situation. Write them down to help you remember key points before entering into the conversation. This may help you when you start to feel overwhelmed and bring you back to focus on your concerns. Here are some phrases that could potentially help you.

“Today I need to talk with you about something that is difficult for me, but I want to come out of this with what we can do together. I respect you and I want to continue to partner with you in the future.”

“I need your help. I have a difficult situation to address and I need your help to make this better for the both of us.”

Focus on what you and the other person has to gain going forward. Indicate that you don’t have all of the answers and you are interested in their ideas as well. By changing your mindset from having to discuss a situation to approaching the area with an open mind can help. Be humble and share that you have something to learn. Who knows what might happen for the good.

Look for common ground and keep an open mind. Keep in mind that open ended questions can go a long way towards understanding and collaboration. As you proceed with the conversation keep in mind questions like:

What would you like to have happen?

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

What concerns do you have?

Are there any other problems or concerns we should talk about?

What will it take for us to work together?

What would need to happen for you to feel satisfied?

What is the best-case scenario?

Working with clients that have issues with the IRS, business to business or within business, I continually stress the need to listen, build relationships and then begin exploring interests. When entering into a situation like this I work with my client to build them up, to overcome their fears, to really try to partner with the other party. This does not always work, but it does most of the time. By taking away demonizing the other party, and trying to collaborate collectively to address concerns, it is quite possible to come to an agreement quicker and with less stress. Keep these ideas in mind the next time you have labeled an engagement a “difficult conversation” or “difficult situation” and see if you can reframe and change your own mindset. You may be surprised with the results.

Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator is an international speaker, that helps organization resolve conflict and negotiate winning solutions. On point resources are available online at www.mikegreg.com and check out the blog. Contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com or call (651) 633-5311.