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How to make hard discussions easier?

Good communication is the key to the success of any relationship - whether it´s professional or personal. In a situation where people have a consensus and things just flow, you don't usually even need to think about communication! But with people, it's inevitable that sometimes disagreements arise and we might clash with each other. If those disagreements aren't discussed, they start making friction in the collaboration. Prolonged, these frictions affect the efficiency, satisfaction, and well-being of the people involved. Thus, good communication doesn't mean that we always have consensus and agreement, but that we are also able to discuss difficult things and be open about our disagreements.

Be aware of your interpretation

Communication is not only saying something and replying to that. We constantly interpret the messages that are sent toward us. When we receive a message our mind starts to automatically assess: What does the person really mean? Do they have good intentions or am I threatened? This means that what is said is not always interpreted the way it was meant. The interpretation depends on many other factors than the message itself such as the person´s personality, previous experiences, and stress levels. And the further away the interpretation is from the initial message, the more likely it is that miscommunication and even conflict happen.

Focus on being connected - not right

One of the most common pitfalls in communication is that one strives to be right. But if your goal is constructive and collaborative communication, being connected is a better goal than being right. Building connection and common understanding do not mean you have to confirm and agree with your partner. It simply means a mindset where you strive to hear what the other person is saying and understand their viewpoint. The reason why conflicts arise isn't that "I am right and you are wrong.", but because "I have not been heard or understood." So stop fighting for the ultimate truth and start listening to what the other person is saying.

Listen actively to the needs behind the message

We all have a bunch of needs: belonging, appreciation, connection, control, predictability, and joy, for example — just to name a few. Many of our needs depend on other people - meaning we cannot meet those needs without the help of others. And when these needs are not met, it is reflected in negative feelings in the interaction. The better you understand your own and your counterpart’s needs, the easier it will be for you to get along with yourself and others. If your partner is behaving in an unpleasant way, try to listen to the unmet needs behind their words and behavior.

Don't be kind - be genuine

Constructive interaction does not mean that we need to agree and always be kind to each other. In constructive communication you are free to express the unmet needs you have. Because by pleasing others and avoiding conflicts, you will never get your own needs met. By being genuine and open, you give your counterparty the opportunity to provide you with what you need. We often fail to communicate our own real needs, as keeping them to ourselves seems like an easier solution in the short term. And to be honest, genuine expression of your needs is not an easy task. It can be scary because you don’t know how the other person will react to your openness. It makes you feel vulnerable and fragile. However, it is the key to effective interaction and, in the long run, the best way to build collaboration.

4 steps to follow if you want to communicate hard things constructively

What about when there is a conflict at hand? Or when you need to give constructive feedback to someone? The following model helps you resolve a conflict, and actually this can make any discussion more constructive. It is based on the principles mentioned above, connecting, listening to needs and feelings, and expressing them openly. The model can be utilized in everyday interactions both in the work community and at home.

1. OBSERVATION

The first step in the model is observation, i.e. an objective description of the situation. In the expression of an observation, it is important that it describes the situation without interpretations, definitions, or evaluations. The observation is therefore not dependent on the observer, but can be signed by anyone present in the situation.

2. FEELING

Next step is expressing the feelings that arose from that situation. In expressing feelings, it is important to identify one’s own feelings and not evaluate the other person’s thoughts or intentions.

3. NEED

The third step is the expression of the need. The purpose is to describe what would you need in order to ease the feeling. Here, too, you should be careful to talk openly about your own needs, and not just describe an activity or strategy, for example.

4. REQUEST

The final step in the model is to present a request to the other party. That is, what they could do to meet your needs. It is worthwhile to be as precise as possible in expressing a request, as it is difficult to implement vague action points.

Let´s give it a try with an example:

"When you didn't give any feedback about my presentation…

It made me feel insecure and insignificant…

Because I need appreciation and encouragement from you..

I wish that next time you would share feedback about my presentation."

Another one:

"When you arrived late for our meeting for the third time this week…

It made me feel insignificant and angry…

Because I need your support and the feeling that you value my time…

I hope you will be on time next time."

Now it´s your turn. I encourage you to have the difficult discussion that is bothering you today! It might feel hard but is definitely worth the effort in the long run. If you need help with facilitating difficult conversations, don´t hesitate to turn to us. We at Laavu have experience in solving conflicts both at the specialist and leadership levels. Drop us a message at info@laavu.io if you want to hear more!