Why Simple Reframing Can Make Difficult Conversations Easier

Have you ever been in the position of needing to have one of those ‘less than pleasant’ conversations with someone on your project team?

It might be because of some internal bickering which needs to be addressed. Or needing someone to ‘drop the tone’ when engaging with stakeholders. Or perhaps there’s someone who is contradicting the team’s agreed position in front of senior stakeholders. Or someone who needs to share their responsibilities for the good of the team, but doesn’t want to let go of the reigns.

Whatever the situation, the best course of action is always to address it with a direct conversation.

This might start by getting all the facts from the people affected, and then talking to the person who is causing the problem in order to resolve it.

But often, instead of having the direct conversation we need to have, we do everything in our power to avoid it.

Why do we avoid having the ‘difficult’ conversations?

I could write a book on the number of conversation avoidance tactics I’ve used throughout my career.

And so, I can’t help but find it slightly amusing, the lengths we are prepared to go to and how much more difficult we make things for ourselves, just to get out of telling someone exactly how we feel.

Although I am much better at recognising this avoidance now (and have successfully implemented strategies to stop it from happening), it still catches me out sometimes. It simply comes with being human!

But it begs the question:

Why do we try so hard to put off conversations we KNOW we should be having?

I’m sure that there is a much more psychologically intelligent reason, but in my experience, it’s because most of us don’t enjoy making others feel uncomfortable.

And the act of making someone else feel uncomfortable generally makes US feel the same way.

Because of this feeling, we’ve gotten into the habit of labelling the honesty of a direct conversation as creating conflict. Which really dooms us from the start.

The conflict is in the conflict

Considering a direct conversation that will benefit your project team and stakeholders as “conflict” is the problem.

Before we’ve even had a conversation, we label it as creating conflict. This means we mentally approach the situation by prefacing the fact that there will be a conflict – because that’s how we’ve labelled it in our heads.

And while you’re not likely to end up in an all-out brawl, because the conversation has already been labelled as conflict, no matter how prepared you are to say what you need to say, you’ll find the conversation tends to head into that awkward place – the exact place you didn’t want it to go.

How do we shift this perception into something more constructive that allows us to have the direct conversations we need to have?

How to reframe difficult conversations for a positive outcome

1. Bring it back to the goal of the project

Don’t see this as a situation of ‘conflict’. While it may end up being awkward or uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean there will be conflict.

Bring it back to the intention. Everyone wants the project to succeed and this difficult conversation will help you to achieve that. The person you’re having the conversation with wants this same project outcome.

What are you trying to achieve for you, the others involved and the project? Focus on this and you create a new perspective on the reason to have the conversation in the first place.

2. Remember your conversation will create a more powerful working culture

Addressing project and people issues helps to create a more powerful working culture.

When you have direct conversations to create positive outcomes, others in your team will find the confidence to do the same and this will have a positive effect on team communication and project success.

3. You will create trust and loyalty

Giving others the space and opportunity to air their frustrations or anxieties creates trust and loyalty within the team.

And this will only have positive outcomes for your project.

4. Set the precedent

How do you want the team to deal with issues going forward?

In the spirit of creating a more powerful working culture, by having direct conversations you set the precedent of how issues should be dealt with. Direct conversations eliminate gossiping, and instead, create an environment where addressing and eliminating problems in a respectful way is the status quo.

5. Things are more likely to get better – not worse

Addressing uncomfortable situations directly, often results in discovering greater opportunities to work more efficiently and effectively as a team.

Reframe conflict and have the conversation

Removing the assumption of conflict and using the reframing tools above, will help you to have the direct conversations you need to have in order to deliver a successful project.

Now that you know about this reframe, my next article dives into the detail of what to do (and what not to do) to make sure your next difficult conversation leads to a positive outcome.

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