A guide to having difficult conversations

Written by
John Scott

02 Feb 2016

02 Feb 2016 • by John Scott

Resolving disputes

I shouldn't be surprised anymore by stuff which has been part of my professional life for nearly thirty years.

But surprised I am on occasion.

Recently I have been involved in resolving disputes which grew from an unwillingness or inability to have a discussion felt to be slightly awkward or potentially difficult. Needless to say, exchanges then became more awkward and very difficult over time, particularly when seen through the twisted prism of email.  

So the issue feeds on itself in the absence of discussion and resolution.

Difficult things won't just disappear

I am reminded of any number of situations, both personal and professional, where our capacity to resolve issues through discussion can be limited.  

We would much rather do anything else than discuss a 'thing' which is difficult.

We assume that difficult things will disappear by an unknown process of osmosis and we will be left untouched by the process. But we will be mightily relieved when it happens. Sadly this process doesn’t exist.

The capacity for the thing to explode out of control in the presence of religious, national or cultural differences is unlimited.

The Wikipedia definition of empathy is as good as any - "the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, i.e. the capacity to place oneself in another's shoes.”

I can think of few difficult discussions which would not have been made easier with an application of empathy as part of efforts to understand the thing and resolve it. 
There is an equation waiting to be defined: [(a little courage + empathy + a capacity to put aside our own concerns) - the desire for a punch-up] = a difficult discussion which isn't difficult anymore.