By nature, a “difficult” conversation is probably going to be stressful. If there’s conflict involved, stress is sure to follow.
No matter how skilled you may be at difficult conversations, our adrenaline gets going, we start having feelings of fight or flight, our palms start to sweat and you feel nervous.
That stress response is totally normal!
Your goal is to have strategies in place to bring your stress level down and alleviate that anxiety that starts to snowball.
We need to be able to step up and speak about things when they’re important to us, and by finding ways to reduce the stress we’re more likely to not only address issues when they arise but also feel confident when we’re doing it.
How can we work on getting rid of difficult conversation stress? Here are my three best tips.
Check this out:
#1. Do Something to Elevate your Mood Beforehand
Often what happens is you’ve been thinking about the upcoming conversation, going over how you’ll say certain things and you’ve probably even made notes that you’ve been reviewing ahead of time. You’re laser focused on what is about to happen.
There’s nothing wrong with being prepared. But by walking into the room all revved up and ready for battle, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Get yourself ready then put it aside.
Take a few moments prior to the conversation to have a quick chat with someone you adore. Go do something, anything, that will put a smile on your face and break the tension you’re feeling.
Put on your favourite music and dance it out!
Okay, okay, you’re probably thinking…”really, Diane?!?!”. But I’m dead serious.
Music is uplifting and movement is a great way to loosen yourself up. Close the door to your office, or go get in your car, or strap on your running shoes and hit the pavement for quick walk around the block with your earphones.
Now, I get it. Not everyone likes to dance or would feel comfortable doing that in the office. Maybe you’re more of a funny cat videos person. Go do that instead.
The goal is to get yourself is an easier, more comfortable and relaxed state of mind.
#2. Reconnect With Your Why
Somewhere in between the time we prep for the conversation and the time we actually walk in the room, we sometimes forget our why.
We get all caught up in the “what” and forget our why!
“What are they going to say?”
“What if they angry?”
“What will happen if they aren’t willing to listen?”
“What if I panic and forget my key points?”
Focusing on the what puts us in a mindframe of worrying. To get yourself back on track, you need to focus on why you’re doing what you’re doing.
“Why are we having this conversation?”
“Why is this important?”
“Why do I need to address this now and not wait?”
Your why is your focus. Not all the hypothetical outcomes you’ve been conjuring up in anticipation of the difficult conversation.
When you reconnect with your why, when the other person reacts in the conversation, the other person’s reaction won’t have the same pull because you know exactly what your purpose is.
#3. Be Aware When You’re Mirroring
I’ve talked a bit about mirroring before, and how we tend to match the reaction we’re getting from someone else in a difficult conversation.
It’s so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole when someone else is getting worked up. The more they go on the offense, the more you go straight back at them.
Needless to say, this is NOT productive.
Instead of resisting or pushing back when they react, just let go of the resistance. Surrender to the moment and don’t start to follow their lead. Their reaction is about them, and you need to just let it happen.
Sometimes when things that aren’t so great happen in our lives, we resist because we aren’t happy about it. But once you own it, your stress levels reduce. Sometimes things just are and learning to embrace that reality means less stress for you.
Don’t get me wrong on this. Choosing to not resist doesn’t mean you like what’s happening. It doesn’t mean you’re glad your employee is having a meltdown because you politely asked them about their perpetual lateness. It just means you’re choosing your own behaviour, like choosing to not get sucked into the vortex of back and forth arguing.
A poor reaction in a difficult conversation just IS. And by accepting that, you’re taking the pressure off yourself.
At the end of the day, a difficult conversation is going to go how it’s going to go. You can be prepared ahead of time and so totally ready to deal with conflict, but you can’t always control the outcome. Fortunately, in my experience, if things have gone poorly during the conversation, once the other person has had time to process things they will often come around with their thinking. Just because it doesn’t go well in the moment, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost!
By taking a few minutes to reduce stress, you’re easing the pressure and keeping things in perspective with your difficult conversations.