Three useful thoughts so as not to avoid that difficult conversation

I wrote somewhere else in this Open Thinking that conversation is from the Latin word Cum-versare, literally turning (“versare”) together (“cum”). The goal of a conversation is being in sync with one another, physically as well as metaphorically. When this happens, a conversation bears fruit, as well as meaning and satisfaction.

At times, though, we fear to hold meaningful conversations. This happens just when those conversations would be needed the most.

A lot of conversations that need to happen simply do not happen as a result of fear.

We fear to disappoint, we fear to deceive, we fear to let someone else down. We feel that what we need to say may make the other person diffident, when not fearful. We feel we might jeopardise the relationship. Most of the times, this happens unconsciously.

When we feel we are postponing such a conversation, there’s a couple of things that could come our way to help us out of this unpleasant dilemma:

  • Listen to our emotions and “label” them: the first element is to acknowledge our own emotions. What is our fear? What is that can happen that we would like to avoid? What level of awareness do we have? What combination of feelings do we evidence? We want to “label” our emotions, give them a name. A lot of our tension will just ease out as a result of this acknowledgement;
  • Listen to the other person’s emotions and acknowledge them: listening is such an act of attention and generosity. Listening to the other person’s emotions means “making room” for them, letting them explain. This implies that we avoid interrupting, as well as that we  empathise with them even physically and with our body language;
  • Most importantly, we need to lead ourselves into assuming the other persons’ good faith. Very rarely do we doubt of our own good faith. Hence, when having a difficult conversation, we would be better off if we learnt how to assume, if only for the sake of the argument, the other person’s own good faith. In most instances, feelings are real, good faith is real. In other words, in most cases, when we think that the other person is not in good faith we are wrong.

The above three steps can do much to establish a proper ground for real empathy. When this happens, having “that difficult conversation” may in the end turn out so much easier than we had thought. A difficult conversation can result in a the key building block of a relationship of trust.

Trusting someone means relying on someone’s ability to hold even that difficult conversation instead of avoiding it.

Tommaso Arenare

4 thoughts on “Three useful thoughts so as not to avoid that difficult conversation

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. They are very wise words. One thing that we may need to add, if the difficult conversation is to happen at work, is that there are often gender issues which affect the way in which we may feel more or less ‘fearful’ about holding such conversations. I read with great interest Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean in (much talked about by the British press, often for the wrong reasons). She is right in pointing out the extra hurdle that women in leadership face if they are not liked. Your suggestions above, which help to analyse our fears, may also help women in leadership to have that difficult conversation and still be perceived as a ‘likeable’ person.

      • truly…conversing in difficult time would build trust and strengthen the bond between the individuals or groups as well. There are certain instances where subjects would stop relating to each other in any form. This would build distance between them, and will never help them become mature communicators.

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