The 3 Ways To Make Tough Conversations Painless

Lawrence Polsky
Posted: 07/17/2011

Talk about tough conversations: imagine for a minute you are a doctor who has to deliver the "four weeks to live" news. Or how about the New York City inspector who has to meet with a restaurant owner and deliver the "bad health" grade? Or imagine the conversations going on right now in the White House about the overwhelming debt in the US. Tough conversations happen everywhere, every day. The thing is, most of the time they are handled poorly. Here are the three ways to make tough conversations easy:

1. The Third Conversation


When things start getting heated, you can keep yourself in control by starting a third conversation. Yes, I am suggesting you start talking with yourself. When the conversation starts heading down a dangerous path, tell yourself "I want to hear his side," "I am interested in her opinion," or something that piques your interest in what the other party has to say. Many tough conversations spin out of control when one side gets consumed in his or her emotions. This shift in thinking keeps you engaged in the discussion and reduces the likelihood of having a one sided lecture (a sure sign of disaster). Your demeanor will follow suit, making "the other guy" comfortable. With this simple trick, you will rarely lose your temper and stay cool as a cucumber during workplace conflict.

2. Say It Before They Do

When you know you are about to get into a heated discussion, be proactive and prepare yourself for all the negativity in advance. It is easier than your think. Before you meet face to face, sit down and write down all the possible things the other person might say that could potentially send you over the edge. Next, go through each item on the list and proactively assess why, from their vantage point, he or she would say such a thing. Is their experience different than yours? Could they have a different point of view? The goal here is to simply brainstorm as many possibilities as you can think of. With this premeditated list, you will walk into the heated conversation prepared, comfortable and at ease— which is the best way to enter a difficult conversation.

3. You Need To See It To Be It

There is a reason so many experts in so many disciplines purport the importance of visioning: because it works! When you anticipate a heated conversation is imminent, starting envisioning yourself as centered and calm. A clear vision of calmness will bring about physiological change toward calmness. As a little support mechanism for your visioning, simply use a mirror or a friend to walk through the pending situation - again, always envisioning yourself as a stalwart of calmness. The visioning and role playing will help your emotional mind stay calm when the heated moment happens, because you’ll feel like you already went through it. After all, you kind of did!

Let's get one thing straight— bad things happen and tough conversations are a sure thing that you will encounter. But, it is up to you if it becomes heated or not. After all, the emotional center of the brain is always operating (think of fight or flight). If you start following the steps above, you can train your brain to cognitively choose if fight or flight is right for you.

And remember, we all have an emotional thermostat. For some of the lucky ones, it is always sets to cool. But for most of us, it fluctuates between hot and cold. By simply mastering the three strategies above, you will gain the ability to stay calm and relaxed even if dropped into the most challenging situation with our proverbial arms tied behind our back. And, as rumor has it, a calm demeanor is also good for the heart!

Lawrence Polsky
Posted: 07/17/2011

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