We have already done quite a bit on this subject in the previous section. In order to respond constructively to difficult conversations and conflict, rather than react to them, take the time is takes to adopt a constructive mindset. You can decide not to respond until you are ready to – do not get roped into reacting before you are ready. You can always say: “mmm, that is interesting. I need to give it the consideration it deserves before I respond. Let me get back to you.”
1. Consider these questions as you prepare for a difficult conversation:
- Do you want to understand, resolve, avoid, win or punish? What is the outcome that you are after. You may need to step out and regroup if you notice you are getting very emotional and upset. Your capacity to deal constructively will be severely limited as your brain concentrates its effort on fear, flight and fight.
- So take a breather and think: What do I really want for myself, for others and for this relationship? This will get your brain back into the pre-frontal cortex. This is you taking control of your body as well as your emotions.
- How would I behave if I really wanted these results (this becomes your compass).
- What don’t you want? It is usually what you fear will happen if you speak up: “I don’t want to loose a friend”; “I don’t want to hurt their feelings”; “I don’t want to have a situation where we can’t work together”, and so on. When starting a difficult conversation, it is sometimes helpful to state what you don’t want, and what you do want, then you avoid the fools choice.
2. Let go the attachments: Be aware of your attachments and really weigh up whether these are worth fighting for. These will invariably get in the way of a constructive win win win outcome – because you will be motivated to defend them. In fact you will know you are the victim of an attachment by the very fact that you feel the need to defend something. Ask yourself:
- Will it matter next week; next year in 5 years? If the answer is no – let it go now.
3. Tune into the assumptions you are making about conflict in general, and also about this particular conflict. Ask yourself:
- Are you assuming there are only 2 options – the fools choice?
- Have you prejudged the person and the issue?
- Have you already determined the reality of the situation?
- Have you already decided the outcome?
4. Know where your line is and when someone is crossing it. Ask yourself:
- Where is my line in the sand?
- How do I expect to be treated and spoken to?
- How do I treat and speak to others?
Regardless of anything else, you have the right to expect to be treated with civility and respect. Draw your line, and toe it! You cannot be responsible for how poorly another adult behaves, but you can be responsible for declaring your position on their behaviour. Be aware that poor behaviour is usually the sign of insecurity, so you don’t have to take it personally at all.