How To Avoid The 4 Common Pitfalls That Will Derail A Difficult Conversation

Startup Stock Photos With an overwhelming response to my last blog How To Rock A Difficult Conversation In 7 Simple Steps, today I am sharing with you tips to avoid the common pitfalls that will derail a difficult conversation before it even starts.

Pitfall #1 – Negative Mindset Focus If what we focus on is what we get to the exclusion of everything else, then we will get more of what it is we are thinking about. What sort of outcome do you think you would have if you went into a meeting with this mindset?

  • Focusing on how difficult the conversation is going to be,
  • Thinking about all the negative outcomes that could happen,
  • Paying attention to how much you resent this part of your job, and
  • Finding ways to avoid having the conversation altogether

On the other hand, if you want to have a conversation that get’s a great outcome, try this:

  • Focus on other times in your career where you have handled a delicate situation like a champion
  • Think about the benefits of getting past this hurdle, like the improvement it will make to the business and mood of the team
  • See it as a way to learn and grow as a leader, how far you’ve come already and how it will feel to have these conversations in the future with ease
  • Take action – set a date and time and make a plan to be fully prepared

Pitfall #2 – A Negative Attitude “What’s the point, they won’t change anyway.” Have you heard leaders use this as an excuse not to have a difficult conversation with someone? I have, and it sets the frame for an outcome that matches the attitude. You see, what we project out to others is reflected straight back at us. So if you enter a difficult conversation with the belief that it is going to be a challenge, then you will handle it in a way that displays that to the other party. It might be subtle, and you might think you can ‘fake it’, but the reality is you cannot. It’s like the well-known saying – ‘an animal can smell your fear!’ We are always looking for evidence to validate our beliefs in life. So if you imagine the conversation will go a certain way, you will find evidence to back up this belief. If you have a positive outlook that the conversation will go well, it will help you to get really clear on exactly how you would like it to be.

  • What will you be seeing the other person doing during the conversation?
    • Perhaps their body language is open and relaxed.
  • What will you be hearing during your conversation?
    • Perhaps their tone is friendly and soft.
  • What will you be telling yourself during and after the conversation ends?
    • Perhaps “that went even better than I planned!”
  • When all this is happening, how will you feel?
    • Perhaps relieved, or satisfied.

Pitfall #3 – Poor Physiology Given that motion creates emotion, what emotions are you creating with your physiology? To illustrate this point, please follow these directions:

  • Slump your shoulders down
  • Turn your mouth downwards
  • Crease your brow, and
  • Sigh heavily

How are you feeling? I imagine not ready for a difficult conversation! Contrast this with the following directions:

  • Stand tall with your shoulders back
  • Turn your mouth upwards in a smile
  • Look up towards the ceiling, and
  • Take a deep breath

How are you feeling now? I imagine you are noticing a big difference between the two emotions you created by changing your physiology. So when you are about to walk into a meeting, make sure your body, breathing and facial features are moving in a positive motion!

Pitfall #4 – Allowing Fear To Take Over

Fear can stop us in our tracks. And then we can create a whole story around it, and build on the fear we are feeling.

Our fear response is something that’s been with us since caveman times. It’s what helped us be aware of real dangers, such as wild animals. Last time I checked, there weren’t many of them in the workplace! (Unless of course, you work at a Zoo.) So fear is just a normal reaction to the perception of danger, something that is imagined rather than a real imminent danger. No real tigers here.

You can make a choice between responding with fear or courage. It’s a neurological fact that you cannot experience both at the same time. That being so, it basically comes down to a decision you make. What will your choice be? Taking courageous action and moving forward quickly, or spending days and countless energy on allowing fear to create a made up story? I suggest the first option will be far less painful!


The 4 Common Pitfalls That Will Derail A Difficult Conversation Before It Starts

Want to find out more about how to be successful at difficult conversations? Download your free eBook “Difficult Conversations. Not So Difficult After All!” and keep close by as a handy reference guide.


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