Negotiations of any form are usually difficult conversations. In fact, difficult conversations and negotiations sort of go hand -in-hand. Emotional intelligence is the key to getting what you want in a collaborative way.
Difficult conversations needn’t happen as often as they do because there are multiple ways to feel less awkward. Half the time the objectives someone has for a conversation aren’t incompatible, they just need further clarifying.
Here are some things that I’ve learnt about difficult conversations that might help you get what you want (and allow the other part to meet their objectives too).
What is a difficult conversation?
I define these as conversations where:
1. Where I feel awkward or there is a risk that I might.
2. Where the objectives of the two (or more) parties don’t align and/or are incompatible.
Ok…so what’s an objective?
I think there are two types of objectives in conversations these can both be conscious and unconscious.
1. Intellectual or “rationale” objective. This is often conscious. E.g. To get a pay rise.
2. Emotional need: For example to feel valued and motivated at work. There’s lots of different ways to look at emotion needs (more on this in another blog post too). Often both parties will have a need for something like validation, reassurance, praise, connection, approval or status. There are tonnes of reasons for these needs showing-up and you won’t be able to understand every emotional need of every person you meet but being mindful of them is a great start.
Quick tip: One of the most common is a need to feel equal or powerful (NB: this is inherently subjective). Feeling equal and powerful is actually one of the same (but more on that in another post too).
Ten Things to Think About in “Difficult Conversations”
1. Know what you want and need: Know the objectives and desired outcomes you have prior to going into conversation with someone. Information (in this context self-awareness) is power. Be aware of any unmet needs you have (e.g. validation, reassurance, connection) that might pop-up in the conversation too. How much you are going to let these needs control the direction of the conversation? Make a decision on this in advance of the conversation.
2. Have an idea about the other person’s wants and needs: Know or have an idea of the objectives and desires of the person you’re talking to . While they might not know themselves some of them might become apparent during the conversation. These will be both a) emotional and b) intellectual. Hold a conversation open until you can make a rough guess at both. It might be harder to get a feel for the emotional need - we're told that emotions aren't professional and aren't meant for the make place. Please ignore anybody who says this, everyone is seeking to meet their emotional needs (or they're supressing them due to fear or shame - but then, that's a need right? The need is to not feel shame).
3. Conduct the conversation at a “rationale level”: Be cognisant of the emotional needs of others but initially focus a conversation at a “rationale” or “intellectual” level. E.g. “I hear you say we don’t have enough budget to give me a promotion and I hear you say my work is “recognised” by the company. Help me understand what not enough budget means in this instance? Can you explain what enough budget would look like? What factors go into determining what enough budget is?” In this scenario the person has given a logical reason but there is an emotional need too (we’re not year clear what it is but by keeping things intellectual we’re more likely to find out). Don’t ever tell someone what their emotional needs are let them tell you when they feel safe to do so.
4. Use your emotional needs to deepen a conversation or to learn more: If you feel like you're hitting a brick wall no use your own emotional needs as reason to understand more . E.g. “It’s really important for me to feel valued. I want to be a positive force in this team, so I need more info to make sense of this decision in a way that I still feel appreciate and recognised. I don't want to feel distracted and confused - that won't help either of us. So help me understand what factors go into this decision”. Note, here you’re not stating that anything is wrong about “their” decision. Remove any form of “blame” or obvious attribution of the difficult situation to them. In this instance you're just explaining how them acknowledging your request will work in their favour and yours.
5. Defensive behaviour is about them, not you: We instinctively also tend to get defensive around difference but try not to. Sometimes, defensiveness can be an indicator of emotional need. By being defensive what emotional need are they trying to protect? E.g. They might say something like, “as you know this decision rests with me”. This might be them reminding you that “they are in control”. In the case of a pay rise you could say something like “I hear this decision rests with you. I know you’re the decision maker in this and that you must be between a rock and a hard place”. Say this in a genuine manner – people sense inauthenticity and authenticity.
6. Use the power of two truths: Hold both their “intellectual” or “rationale” objective and yours in mind at the same time. E.g. Theirs might be, “if I don’t give a pay rise we’ll come in under budget”. Yours might be, “if they don’t pay me more, I’ll get demotivated and won’t work as hard”. As they speak try and map the pathway to their desired outcome that they’re suggesting. If it’s not clear, ask questions. Then state your map or ask them what they see your map is “I want to a pay rise and to stay motivated. You want to keep the team under budget. How do we figure this out?”
7. Respect their freedom. We all sense when someone is communicating with an intention to persuade. It removes autonomy from the other person (unnecessarily so). The best way to do this is to have fun and to remember “no” right now isn’t a “no” forever. The answer might be different tomorrow or the day after or the day after that so keep going with it (but respectfully mind).
8. Start all conversations from a place of openness and curiosity. This also demonstrates social confidence. To do so stay present, treat it as a bit of a game and honour whatever they share with you. Bring a sense of fun and humour into the conversation where appropriate (this allows you to meet their need for social connection – and even if the conversation doesn’t pan out how you want). It keeps the door open too. Difficult conversations from a place of warmth become A LOT less difficult.
Side note: If you do start to force an outcome and they go along with it you’ll get an idea as to how much they want the agreement, deal etc.
9. Hold space and silence comfortably. Stay present, focus on what they are thinking and feeling. As long as you know you are being polite and human, there’s no need to worry about how you’re coming across. Doing so will derail a discussion and make it less likely for you to obtain your goals.
10. Stay as relaxed as possible about the outcome. I’ve been able to get most of my objectives met when I’ve been willing to walk away. Know that whatever the outcome you’ll be ok. Trust yourself, others will naturally trust you more too.
11. BONUS: This one is women in particular. Emotional caretaking is different to caring about someone’s emotions. It’s possible to be sensitive, aware of the emotion impact while staying true to your objectives even if the other person isn’t comfortable. They’re a free agent in the conversation too.
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