Something Tough to Get Out?

How do we speak our truth without making a problem worse?

Perhaps we have a hard truth to reveal. Perhaps there is something we’ve been longing to say for years but for fear of “rocking the boat,” we have refrained and stifled that truth.

A few months ago (November 11, 2011) I talked about “putting down the sand” in reference to refraining from saying hurtful words in moments of rage or hurt. I was inspired by a teacher I heard pointedly telling an angry child to not throw her sand.

I proposed that “like the grains of sand that could make their way into a child’s eye and cause real damage, our words and actions have the potential to irreparably harm relationships.”

We should not respond to the actions or words which have hurt us in moments of rage. Doing so will only complicate the matter. Most likely we aren’t thinking to our fullest capacity. We may say things that just can’t be taken back.

So how do we tell our truth in a constructive manner and in a way that “engages” the other person while simultaneously expressing what is on our hearts?

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel because I think the authors of the Harvard Negotiation Project book Difficult Conversations have created a model that works. Whatever your situation, be it work-related or a personal matter, I believe their formula provides help for those who have to talk about the tough stuff but don’t want to leave a path of destruction in their wake.

I encourage you to check this book out – either literally from your library or make the investment. It’s a small but mighty book that has the capacity to help you change the way you deal with conflict.

As a teaser, I will provide you a structure for the Difficult Conversation:

Wait for the right time. Remember, you don’t want to do this while you are enraged or at a time that is bad for the other party – they will be less likely to want to listen.

  1. Start with what is called the “Third Story.” Identify the misunderstanding without labeling either person’s view as right or wrong. This is the story as if it were told from the perspective a neutral party. Then invite the other person into a conversation about this Third Story.
  2. First listen to their perspective. This book provides very good advice and guidance on the art of listening and reflecting your understanding back to the other person. When people feel “heard” they are more likely to want to understand your perspective. Seeking to understand and truly listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give.
  3. Tell your story. Explore your contribution to the conflict. Discuss feelings using “I” statements and refrain from accusatory statements. Explore the interests buried within your positions. Invite the other person in to ask how he or she sees your interests differently.
  4. Invite the other person to problem-solve. Most likely this will take time and more than one interaction. Engage in brainstorming and collaboratively attempt to solve the problem together. If the other party is not ready or it looks like they may never be ready to work with you, Difficult Conversations gives guidance on how to handle those particular situations with grace.

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