In light of the intensity of some things going on in our country and our world these days, I’ve been thinking a lot about difficult conversations and how we go about having them. Many of us have strong opinions – about who we want to win the election, diversity in the entertainment industry, and what’s going on within our companies or families – and this can lead to some pretty intense disagreements.
An important part of bringing our whole selves to work is feeling empowered to share our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs honestly. Because of this, and especially when we do feel comfortable enough at work to do so, these disagreements are inevitable. What I’ve found, though, is that sometimes it’s not the topic itself that causes issues, but instead how we decide to have these hard conversations.
In the past few months, especially, I’ve seen conflicts get blown way out of proportion because people didn’t connect live but instead turned to Slack, Twitter, Facebook, text or email to communicate their feelings or settle a disagreement. Written communication without live conversations often contributes to increased conflict and lack of resolution.
Even though most of us, myself included, know better, why do we still do this?
First of all, all forms of electronic communication tend to be the primary way we connect these days for many of us – both personally and professionally. So, communicating on these platforms is just what’s easiest.
Second of all, it can sometimes seem easier for us to be honest and direct in writing because we can say what is true for us without having to worry about the in-the-moment reaction of another person.
And third, electronic communication takes way less courage than having a live, real conversation with another human being, on the phone, on video, or in person. When we talk to people live we have to deal with our fear of rejection, fear of being hurt, and our tendency not to speak our full truth. Avoiding the live conversation and choosing to communicate in writing sometimes feels “safer” and can allow us to say things we might otherwise withhold.
Regardless of why we choose to engage in important conversations via these electronic forms of communication, it’s much less likely for us to work through conflicts, align with one another, and build trust and connection when we avoid talking to each other live about important topics.
Anything we’re willing to engage in electronically can usually be resolved much more quickly, effectively, and positively by having a live conversation, even if we’re scared to do so. The fear may be real, but most often the “threat” is not.
Here are some things you can do to practice engaging in live conversations with people more often and, ultimately, to resolve your conflicts more successfully.
1) Be clear about your intention – Before sending an email, text, or posting something in Slack or on social media, ask yourself, “What’s my intention?” If you’re about to engage in something that is in any way emotionally charged, about a conflict, or important on an interpersonal level, check in to make sure you’re not simply sending the electronic message to avoid dealing with it and the person(s) directly involved. Tell the truth to yourself about how you feel, what you want, and why you’re about to engage in the specific type and form of communication you’re choosing.
2) Don’t send or post everything you write – Writing things out without a filter and just letting all of our thoughts and feelings flow can be a very important exercise, especially when we’re dealing with a conflict or something that’s important to us. However, we don’t always have to send or post everything we write! It’s often a good idea to save an email in your drafts folder and read it again later (maybe after you’ve calmed down a bit or even the following day). I’ve done this many times, and sometimes end up editing or simply deleting the message – choosing to pick up the phone and talk live, or deciding to not send or share it at all once I’ve thought about it more.
3) Request a call or a meeting – Before engaging in a long, emotional email or social media exchange, it can often be best to simply pick up the phone or send a note to request a specific time to talk about the situation live. Face to face is always best if you can make it happen, but if that poses a big challenge (i.e. you’re busy and it might take a while to set up) or is not possible (i.e. you don’t live close enough to the person to see them easily), talking on the phone or by video is another option. A great email response can simply be, “Thanks for your note, this seems like something that would be better to discuss live than by email. Let’s set up a time to talk later today or this week.”
4) Speak your truth, without judgment or blame – When you do engage in the live conversation (in person or on the phone), focus on being real, not right. This means that you speak your truth by using “I statements” (I think, I feel, I notice, I want, etc.). As soon as we move into blame or judgment, we cut off the possibility of any true resolution. Own your judgments and notice if you start to blame the other person(s) involved. If so, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and get back to speaking your truth in a real way, not accusing them of stuff.
5) Get support from others – When we’re dealing with emotionally-charged conflicts, it’s often a good idea to reach out for support from other people we trust and respect. If at all possible, try to get feedback from people who will be honest with you, won’t just tell you what you want to hear and agree with you no matter what, and who aren’t too emotionally connected to the situation themselves. Whether it is to bounce ideas off of each other, get specific feedback, or simply to help you process through your own fear, anger, or tendency to overreact (which many of us do in situations like this), getting support from those around us in the process is essential. We don’t have to do it alone and we’re not the only ones who struggle with things like this.
Living life, doing our work, and interacting with the other human beings around us can be wonderfully exciting and incredibly challenging (or anywhere in between). Conflicts are a natural part of life, work, and relationships. We can learn so much about ourselves and others through engaging in productive conflict and important conversations.
The ultimate goal isn’t to live a conflict-free life; it’s to be able to engage in conflict in a way that is productive, healthy, and effective. When we remember that live conversations, even if they can be scary at first, are always the best way to go, we can save ourselves from needless worry, stress, and suffering – and in the process, resolve our conflicts much more quickly, easily, and successfully.
Are there situations in your life that require live conversations where you have either been avoiding, tweeting, or emailing – and they’re not getting resolved? What can you do to address these situations directly – and have live conversations with those people? Share your thoughts, ideas, and questions about this here in the comments.