Tricia Karp Tricia Karp
25 June 2013

The conversations you don’t want to have… and why they’re good.

foalkeeper-fight-at-goalkeepermagazine-com_Tough.  Difficult.  Confronting.  Conversations that conjure fear and trepidation before they even begin.

Confronting Conversations is a topic I’m frequently asked to speak about.  After my first presentation to a women’s mentoring group, news spread like wild fire, and I’ve been invited to other groups again and again.

It doesn’t surprise me.  There are two main reasons why so many women want to hear about confronting conversations – and often avoid having them:

1. They don’t know how to do them well

2. They’re terrified that instigating a conversation of the confronting variety will damage their relationships (those of us brought up on a diet of be nice are particularly prone to this. As a rehabilitated nice girl, once heavily invested in having everyone at least like {preferably love} me, I didn’t do confrontation.  I did pleasing.  And my relationships were all the more superficial for it.  Not so these days, I’m glad to report.)

I reckon part of the problem is that so many of us see confrontation as a battle.  A sword fight.  A wrestling match.  With a clear winner and loser at the end.  It doesn’t need to be that way.

Confronting conversations are a necessary and normal part of relationships – at work, and at home.

Done well – once you’ve mastered the art of instigating confronting conversations with courage, skill and confidence – something surprising happens.

Your relationships actually improve.  It’s true.  And your fear of confrontation proves to have been built on a foundation of sloppy wet sand.

Here’s how my most recent confronting conversation went down:

I’d been feeling disgruntled about a business arrangement I had with someone.  I felt that I’d kept up my end of the bargain and I wasn’t seeing evidence that he’d stuck with his.

I said what I needed to say (I have a structure for these conversations that’s direct, respectful, kind and oh-so gracious).

He listened.  He responded.  I listened.  We connected.  We sorted it out.

I walked away feeling a brand new level of respect for him.  I actually felt as though we had a real relationship, for the first time, even though we’d known each other a while and our business arrangement had been in place for a few months.  It was profound.

I didn’t set out to prove him wrong.  I didn’t approach our conversation as a competition.  I wasn’t trying to ‘win.’ I wanted to understand where he was at.  I wanted our relationship to work.

Going in with that intention – plus the right skills – meant there was room for us to connect.  For us to learn something new about one another.  To strengthen our relationship.  And then get on with the job.

I can’t tell you how many times I used to avoid confronting conversations in my life.  How many times I smiled sweetly and changed the subject. How many times I pretended everything was ok.  How many times I avoided the truth.

How many times I kept my mouth shut.

I’m not going to pretend that confronting conversations are easy.  They take skill, care, courage and practice.  And if you approach them as an opportunity to make your relationships better, you’re more than halfway there.

Have good intentions.  Say how you feel.  Be clear.  Be kind.  Be open to learning something new.  Speak powerfully.

~~~

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