As humans, we are hardwired with both a need for respect and a basic “fight or flight” instinct. When we feel disrespected or misaligned, we go into fight or flight, usually leaving us to avoid conflict or using harsh words in conversation.

I have seen several stories about business men and women who avoid conflict to the point that they end up in a courtroom or parting ways. In all of these situations, a key conversation was avoided because of some fear of what might happen. Here are some tips for having a crucial conversation and actually talking out an issue or conflict.

1) Don’t Avoid It

Every time I see someone fail to have a critical conversation, they have a “good” excuse for not having it. Common excuses are “that won’t work for this person” or “you don’t know them” or “they will just get angry and quit”. However, when a person does decide to have the conversation, they are almost always surprised by how well it goes. Let me say it another way – every legal fight I have seen in a business starts with an avoided conversation.

2) Don’t Judge Intentions

The best way to get a good conversation off track is to judge the other person’s intentions. In your head, you are probably trying to figure out why the other person does what they do, but thinking it, or worse, saying this out loud is not helpful. Examples of this include saying things like “you show up late regularly because you are lazy” or “you just don’t care about your job” or “you don’t like to work hard”. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, it never advances the conversation because it makes people put up their guard. When a person is defensive, they close the conversation instead of opening it up.

3) Get it Out

The key to any good conversation is respect. If it doesn’t exist, progress is difficult. Part of respect means valuing another person’s thoughts and feelings. This can be shown by sharing and listening. Sometimes people just need to vent. They need to get out their past thoughts and frustrations. If it is you that need to vent, you might just tell the other person that you want to get your thoughts on the table before deciding what to do next. Be courageous. Make sure you also make time to listen to the other person’s thoughts. Remember not to judge intentions. Don’t reply with comments like “that’s stupid” or “you are thinking about this wrong”. If there is a misconception, you can offer your perspective, but don’t diminish the other persons thoughts and feelings.

4) What Are We Going to Do Next

The phrases “agree to disagree” and “I don’t disagree with you, but…” get used too often, but it is not a bad concept. You cannot change how another person feels about something, so the real question in any conversation is “what are we going to do next?”. This simple question often advances the conversation despite disagreement because it encourages collaboration.

Sometimes we go through great lengths to avoid confrontations which leads us to the worst types of confrontations. The most dangerous conversations are the conversations that are avoided.


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