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  • Writer's pictureCarole Stizza

How to Start Hard Conversations and Keep People Open to What you Have to Say

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

You want to scream about vaccines! (Work requires the vaccine and your team still has doubts.) You want your kids to get a good job! (They question college with an upside down job market.) And now your best employee wants a raise?! (How do you keep a great employee when you don’t have extra money to give?)

Sharing what they don’t want to hear

You feel torn and need to have a conversation about a topic and fear that it will blow up into a dangerous interaction you can’t control and know you will get pushbacks because you can’t please everyone.

Like pouring water on rocks

Telling someone something they are not ready to hear is like pouring water on a rock and wondering why the water rolls away. Closed ears, a closed mind, or a defensive attitude is just like that rock – nothing will penetrate. So how do you get someone to listen to what you need them to hear?

Yelling is like swinging a hammer

Peers, coworkers, employees, and even your teenagers at home – all need to hear information that they may not want to hear. And speaking louder, faster, or in their face is no different than using a hammer on that rock – the result – you will successfully break the rock, but you also will successfully break their trust in you – and breaking that is not the answer – ever. Instead of using the same chisel or hammer we might use on a rock, asking questions and helping the person to become curious works much quicker.

Why is this so hard?

Emotions. Whether it’s your stance on vaccines during a pandemic, the value of going to college when the job market is in turmoil, or whether or not a valued employee will accept your limitations and stay – our emotions can hijack our good intentions on being a good conversationalist and listener.

You must neutralize emotions

Detectives know that staying calm and asking questions helps to neutralize emotions. Keeping your own emotions calm can be done by tapping into your own curiosity. Then - asking a question that makes someone think, asking someone to share their experience, or asking what it is that they want the most shifts the other’s mind to open, to listen to the question, and lessen their defensiveness. It’s a 1-2 method that can be learned.

Asking creates space to hear

Creating space for tough topics may feel too hard. But there is a way. One of the most effective formats to follow when you need to step into hard conversations is to clearly identify the context, focus on one topic, ask for examples to clearly share what life looks like from both viewpoints, and then limit the way you ask more questions to What and How questions.

It can resemble this

Context: I need to talk about the vaccine. Our client requires us all to be vaccinated to work onsite with them.

One thing focus: For those who have not gotten the vaccine, I’m open to hearing what is the one thing you still need to learn to change your mind about getting the vaccine so I can include you on this project?

Example: Can you share with me how you would prefer to receive that information?

What do you prefer receiving first?

How can I support you on this?

Leaders ask and they listen ~ Parents must do the same

Your kids are going back to school and look at graduation and debate the future. You may or may not feel you can afford for them to go to college – or – you feel strongly they do but they are pushing back.

Context: I need to hear your version of what you want in the near future for yourself?

One thing focus: Specifically what do you feel is the most valued option after graduation for you?

Example: Can you share with me how you see that unfolding?

What support are you expecting from us?

What is the first step you are planning to take?

How do you want to be supported now?

Like water, a person who knows how to ask and listen, can move mountains with gentle and consistent persuasion.

To gain more insights on this, The Ask Framework can be found on Amazon. To discuss more ways to have hard conversations, please feel free to email me and we can work out the conversation you need today.

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