Crucial Conversations: Don’t Start Them This Way

by Pamela Jett, CSP

phone-1209230_1920Communicating effectively and professionally in a crucial conversation is challenging.  I recently had a discussion with someone very close to me about a very difficult and emotionally charged situation for both of us.  Over the course of a few days we had numerous conversations about the situation, most of which went very smoothly.  However, one of the conversations was especially challenging for me.  I had to struggle to be the master of my emotions and not let my emotions be the master of me. I had to struggle not to get defensive.  I had to work very hard for a positive conversational outcome.  And, I am confident my conversational partner had to do the same.

While analyzing this tough conversation, I wondered “what triggered me?”  “Why was this conversation more difficult emotionally than all the others on the same topic over the past few days?”  I recognized that the first words out of my conversational partner’s mouth triggered defensiveness that I had to work hard to overcome.  These words, on some level, were insulting to me and I struggled from that moment forward.  Even though it was unintentional, my conversational partner provided an example of how NOT to start a crucial conversation.

The trigger words for me were“I know you don’t understand.”    Here is what they produced in me and what they might produce in others if you use them during a crucial conversation:

  • I felt the urge to say “yes I do” in a defensive fashion.
  • I felt the urge to “correct,” to put on my “communication expert” hat and explain that there is a difference between not understanding and not agreeing.
  • I felt insulted – as if all the effort to be a good listener, to be open minded, and empathetic during previous conversations on the subject was not only wasted, but unappreciated.

These responses would have been counter-productive, would have taken the conversation in the wrong direction, and likely would have made my conversational partner feel defensive.

What could have been used instead of “I know you don’t understand?”   Here are some options:

  • You might not agree.
  • I’ m aware we have different thoughts, feelings on this.
  • You may see it differently.
These phrases communicate an understanding that agreeing and understanding are two separate things.  By avoiding using “You don’t understand” you decrease your chances of triggering defensiveness in others.  Making changes such as these can make a big difference during a crucial conversation.

If you could benefit from learning more communication skills like these to be a better leader, team member, and top performer, join us for a webinar on Best Kept Communication Secrets August 18th.

Pamela Jett is a communication skills and leadership expert who knows that words matter! In her keynote presentations, workshops, books and online learning programs, she moves beyond communication theory into practical strategies that can be implemented immediately to create the kind of leadership, teamwork, and employee engagement results her clients want.

You might also enjoy:

The #1 Reason Difficult People are Difficult

Stop Undermining Your Credibility with This One Word

Trigger Understanding – Not Defensiveness

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