Difficult conversations


Hi, everybody, I’m Mike Staver. This is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. This question is pretty straightforward.

“Mike, what’s the best way to have a difficult conversation?”

First, decide to have the difficult conversation. Second, be clear in the difficult conversation. Third, get in and get out. Do not cover it up with a bunch of happiness. Don’t spray for breeze on a turd. The fact of the matter is that if it is a difficult conversation, nobody you’re having that conversation with is going to appreciate it if you say, “All this hyperbole and sweetness and kindness,” and then lay it, lambaste them with something that’s really difficult.

I think, and this is my bias, do it if it’ll work for you, I actually say that, “Look, I want to have a conversation with you. I’ve got to tell you, it’s difficult for me, I don’t know if it’s going to be difficult for you, but it is difficult for me to have this conversation, so I’m just going to jump in headlong.” Don’t manage emotion. Don’t apologize for the difficult conversation. I hear people often when they’re having difficult conversations or are having a challenge, they’ll be like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I have to have that.” It feels disingenuous. Is that a word, disingenuous?

Marty: Yes.

Mike: I think it’s a word, yes. If somebody’s going to have a difficult conversation with you, don’t you prefer that they just lay it out?

Johnny: 100%, I’m a huge fan of direct communication. When you’re trying to have a specific conversation about something and you have a goal in mind, if you start to cheapen it with, “Oh, but this- but you’re doing such a good job here,” or, “This is okay,” then it starts to take away from what you’re actually trying to accomplish right away.

Mike: Right.

Marty: Like you’re saying, that’s mixed messages. How do you know?

Johnny: You’re doing great, but also, this thing bothers me.

That kind of craziness always makes me insane. Hey, here’s how you have it. You say it’s going to be difficult. You get to the point. You keep it fact-based. You do not make it character-based, “I think you’re lazy. I think you’re difficult. I think you’re impossible.” No, “I’ve noticed the last few days, you’re coming in late. Let’s talk about that,” or if you’re going to have to let somebody go, or relationships breaking up, or something like that, just say, “I need to have a conversation with you, it’s difficult for me to have, so just bear with me as I jump into it and here’s what the conversation is.”

Then move on to next steps. If the difficult conversation requires next steps, don’t just leave it there. Give the person a sense of what’s going to happen next, generally would be helpful. Take care.

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