How to Approach Difficult Conversations

“Don’t see me” our niece used to say when she was a toddler. The same message seems to apply in adult conversations when the prospect of having a difficult conversation arises. It’s certainly not easy to have these conversations and the habit is to hide from it and wish it away, but that only escalates the problem.

We’ve all been there. We may have been overlooked for a new opportunity. The prospect of a raise doesn’t happen, and it goes to a colleague who is seemingly doing the same work. A new leader comes on board and minimizes the efforts that went into setting up a new program. The list goes on. It happens to us personally, as well, when others take advantage of us. Why does this happen? Is it the fear of not being liked, or is it because the other person is too assertive? Are we feeling stifled by the corporate structure and if we interject change, we may receive some kind of backlash? We often tell ourselves that the worst is going to happen when the reality is the opposite.

In our coaching practice, we get asked consistently, how do I start? To work with a challenging employee or boss, you need to know what you contribute, or not, to the conversation. Self-awareness is key, which is the first step in the emotional intelligence framework. Our manual for managing these conversations and becoming more self-aware is the Birkman Method. Quite often we gravitate to thinking that we don’t like the other person because they have a different approach than we do. If we step back and assess what’s going on, we may be able to see beyond that particular mindset and see the difference as an asset rather than a liability. Understanding our strengths, challenges and behaviors helps to handle these difficult conversations with a more confident approach.

One of our favorite models to use for setting up these difficult conversations is the FIJA model. F stands for Feelings. Start by describing your emotions using “I” statements – I feel angry, concerned, frustrated, etc. I is Information. Relate the facts and observations as clearly as possible. J is Judgment. Share the conclusions you formed as a result of your emotions and observations. A is Action. Define specific and concrete steps that you would like to take.

By being more aware of your approach and utilizing a trusted tool, you can feel more confident and move from “don’t see me” to “I’m ready to be seen and heard.”