Uncomfortable Conversations (Assertiveness Part 2)

Who suffers most?

In our last blog, you identified the negative impact always saying “Yes” or always saying “No” is having on you.  Now you want to have that “difficult conversation” without a row, repeating old arguments, and having nothing change at the end of it.  How do you begin?

You want to take a positive approach.  You want to make your point without being aggressive.  You need assertiveness without anger, but it can be very hard to achieve when emotions run high.  Being assertive is about standing up for your rights, while respecting the rights of others.

There’s a great book on this subject:  Crucial Conversations (Kerry Patterson et al McGraw Hill 2002).  For anyone who wants to delve into this topic, it’s worth a read.   There’s plenty on YouTube too: https://youtu.be/uc3ARpccRwQ I’ve applied some of their techniques on the examples below.

Ask yourself three questions before communicating on important or challenging topics.

  1. What do I really want for myself? (ME)
  2. What do I really want for the other person? (THEM)
  3. What do I really want for the relationship? (AFTERWARDS)

Common Interference includes:

  • Wanting to Win (in order for me to get what I want, you have to lose)
  • Seeking Revenge (forget the discussion, I’m going to put you back in your box)
  • Hoping to Remain Safe (if I don’t do anything, it won’t get any worse, and I can put up with things even though I’m not happy with them)

Firstly, clarify what I really want. “I want my colleague to send in his paperwork on time.  I’m really tired of running after him and doing his work for him”.

Secondly, clarify what I really don’t want. “I don’t want to have a useless and heated conversation that creates bad feelings and doesn’t lead to change”

The most important word to remember is: AND. Is there a way to tell my colleague my real concerns and not insult him? How do I talk to my neighbours about the annoying way they park and not come across as demanding or self-righteous? Is there a way to talk to my husband or wife about money and not get into a row?

STARTING OUT Work on ME first. (Remember, the only person I can directly control is myself).

Focus on What I really want.  When I find myself clamming up or getting angry, STOP, and pay attention to my motives.  Ask myself some questions:

  • What does my behaviour tell me about my motives?
  • What do I want for myself? For others? For the Relationship?
  • How would I behave if this was what I really wanted?

Understand my emotions before I start (e.g. I’m angry with him because he creates extra work for me), and then leave them out (if I’m angry, he’ll react to my anger, not his behaviour)

Start with facts, not feelings (Play the ball, not the man).
“You haven’t returned our biggest sales prospect’s three telephone messages” FACT (playing the ball). VERSUS “You never do what I say” (judgmental – playing the man).

Have the conversation. Discuss expectations and responsibilities from both perspectives. Perhaps there’s a genuine reason the task wasn’t completed. (If there’s no barrier, then it’s now out in the open.)   Make sure you both know who’s doing what, by when.

End with clarity. Don’t leave things loose.  A great question to ask before you close the conversation, “What could stop this happening?” If there’s an agreement to return calls on time in future, and this doesn’t happen – the next conversation is not about the same issue – returning phone calls – but about what prevented him keeping his promise.

The best way to implement this technique is by addressing one issue that’s eating at you right now.  Start with a single instance.  It gives you the chance to think about your approach.  Know what you want to achieve for you, the other person, and the relationship afterwards.

Take the positive approach – you can have crucial conversations with confidence.  We’d love you to share some examples of how you get on.

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