Coaching Corner – Approaching the Difficult Conversation: Self-Awareness

Published On: April 27th, 2012By Categories: Blog

As a coaching Guide, team member, and partner in Green House homes we constantly have opportunities to communicate and build relationships with team members.  Time spent in getting to know and trust each other is essential for team effectiveness and success.  But sometimes a particular conversation is uncomfortable, unsettling, or just plain difficult!  Self-awareness is one of the four foundational coaching skills and directly applies to identifying and understanding that a difficult conversation has presented itself.
What makes a conversation a difficult conversation?
A difficult conversation is anything you find hard to talk about.  There are many reasons why a conversation may be difficult for you, including:
-You care deeply about the issue
-The topic is controversial (i.e. religion or politics)
-The outcome is uncertain
-You feel vulnerable or your self esteem is implicated
-You care deeply about the people with whom you are discussing the issue
When a difficult conversation occurs, spend a little time considering what really happened.  There are generally three levels of conversation:
The “What Happened?” Conversation:  Often there is a basic disagreement about the facts of the situation. Who said and did what, what it meant and who is wrong or right.  This creates an immediate disconnect between the people in the conversation.
The Feelings Conversation:  Every difficult conversation involves feelings.  Am I right or wrong; are my feelings appropriate and valid? How about the feelings of the other person?  Do feelings belong in the conversation or should I ignore them?  Unfortunately feelings are part of the equation. 
 The Identity Conversation:  We figure out what the conversation means to ourselves.  In this conversation many judgments happen: are we right or wrong, a good or bad person, competent or incompetent?  These judgments affect our self-esteem and self-worth.  
Here are some ways to reframe the situation for greater understanding and alignment:

  1. Pull back from arguing about who is right.  Be open to exploring the other person’s story.  The pull back will help to reframe the conversation, and look with real curiosity into what the person understands and believes about the “what happened”.
  2. Don’t assume they meant it!  Intentions strongly shape our views and judgments about the impact of the situation.  By putting aside blame and judgment, we open up the possibility of a very different outcome of the conversation.
  3. Choose to not focus on blame.  Sometimes one person is clearly the cause of something that has gone wrong.  Focusing on blame is not helpful because it inhibits our ability to learn what’s really causing the problem and find insights and answers to correct it.  The impulse to blame often comes from our own concern of being blamed.

This is only the beginning of an exploration of difficult conversations.  The book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most is a terrific resource to strengthen communication and to build trust and respect among team members.
Stone, D.,  Patton, B., Heen, S.  Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books, New York, NY. 2000.