By Per Mattsson, Certified Two-Brain Mentor

In this text I am going to share my best advice when it comes to managing tough conversations.

We call this “low affective”: remaining calm and relaxed in relation to the one you’re talking to. When you are low affective, you pose no threat, and that helps your counterpart relax and speak more openly. It also helps you get to a resolution fast.

Use this strategy when dealing with challenging members, when helping upset staff or even when talking to a skeptical person online.

Below are my top three tactics for leading a tough conversation.

Before the conversation starts, prepare the person by telling him or her what you want to talk about.

When you first sit down, don’t beat around the bush: just tell it like it is. Like this:

“I know that you and I are don’t totally agree on this situation and I can tell that you are quite upset. Could you tell me how you feel about this and what your take on this is?”

Tactic #1: Listen

Give the other person the opportunity to speak her mind.

This gives you lots of valuable information. Instead of making assumptions, you hear things straight from the source.

Now, you may hear things that you don’t agree with at all. You may hear things that are just wrong. And you may hear things you don’t like. But it is very important that you don’t interrupt and start to answer. Interrupting turns the situation into an argument—not what you want. No one is going to “win” an argument.

Keep listening, take notes, and ask open-ended questions to collect more information. When your counterpart is finished, try to sum things up.

“OK, so what you have told me this happened and then you felt that I was doing this and then your reaction was this because you thought that I was…”

Tactic #2: Ask Questions

Check that your understanding of the situation, from her point of view, is correct.

After that, I always start asking questions. Here’s a good one to start with:

“What do you think my feelings or interpretation of this situation could be?”

This question makes the other person think about the situation from your perspective. She might see that she could have done things differently. If you still feel that you haven’t reached through,  keep asking questions. Another one that I like is:

“What could you have done differently in handling this situation?”

Without blaming or attacking anyone, you still open her eyes to the fact that it is her responsibility to handle problems like a mature person.

I am not naïve. I have been in many talks where my counterpart is too emotional to answer objectively. But these conversations take a lot of patience. This method is not the quickest, but it is often the best long-term method.

It is easy to be authoritative and more or less scare your staff into doing what you want, but what kind of atmosphere does that give you in the long run?

Tactic #3: Agree on a Solution for Next Time

There will most likely be more tough situations in your company and in your relationships.

How can both parties handle things better next time? What can be done to prevent situations like this in the future?

Take mutual responsibility for this. If your staff have done something that is clearly not acceptable, you should of course be clear about that. In those cases, say something like:

“I can see how you experienced this situation and why you got upset. What happened, and what you did, is not acceptable, and I am glad we had this talk. I know that there are things I could have done differently as well, and I will be aware of that in the future. What can we both do to avoid situations like this, between us or between anyone else, in the future?”

Then you book a follow-up meeting, ask how your staff feels about your conversation—and that’s about it. Congratulations on leading a very good conversation!

Listen, Ask, Agree

The three tactics, again:

  1. Listen
  2. Ask open-ended questions
  3. Agree on a solution

It takes a lot of practice to ask good questions in a low-affective manner, but doing so is worth it.

I strongly advise you to keep improving your communication skills so you can lead your staff without having to use your “position of power.”

If you need advice in handling situation like this, don’t hesitate to reach out: Per@twobrainbusiness.com