Moving Toward Difficult Conversations

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Difficult conversations are one of the most avoided things in life.  Uncomfortable conversations make our heart race, our palms (or more) sweat, and we look for the closest escape route. Some people “power up” and make a scene, others become defensive.

We simply fear conflict.

During my tenure as Lead Case Manager for a women and children’s home, I had to have very difficult conversations with clients and sometimes staff members almost daily. The art of difficult conversations is a learned skill. Here are some lessons I learned along the way:

  1. Check your motive.
    Getting honest with ourselves about our motive is key to a productive conversation. Are you angry? Trying to make a point? Do you have valid concerns about something that is happening? Do you truly want the best for the person you are speaking with? We must know our “why” if we are going to speak the truth in love.
  2. Ask permission.
    Getting permission to share your concerns shows care and respect for the one confronted. By simply asking, “May I ask you a question?” or, “May I tell you how I see it?” they will almost always be willing to hear from us because we have offered them the same care and respect we want given to us.
  3. Learn the art of asking questions.
    Listen more than you talk. Seek to understand the other side. Look beyond behaviors to the why behind their choices. The right questions will help them see their choices. There is great power in self-discovery. As a result, the realization that their choices have caused others pain or problems will open doors for healing and change.
  4. Avoid asking “why” questions.
    When we always ask only “why” questions, eventually the one confronted will feel they can never do anything right. This applies to any relationship. When I intentionally change the way I phrased my questions to my husband, avoiding the word “why”, we began to have better dialogue and were able to reach agreement and understanding with each other.  For more information on this important point can be found in this article in Psychology Today.
  5. Be teachable.
    Every conversation is an opportunity to learn. When we are intentional to be teachable we grow both personally and relationally. Confrontation is an opportunity. Listen to the person’s concerns.  When appropriate we must take responsibility for our part in the conflict.

Difficult conversations are uncomfortable. However, uncomfortable is not bad. It’s just uncomfortable. Take the step of courage and choose to be uncomfortable for the benefit of someone else. Furthermore, watch what happens. There is nothing more rewarding than getting to be a part of helping someone else make life-changing decisions because you’re willing to risk being uncomfortable.


About Author

A lifetime Clark County, Washington native, Cheryl has dedicated her life to empowering others. Whether spending her days (and sometimes nights) with youth looking for direction in their lives, opening her home as a place of refuge when they needed somewhere to live, or going to the homeless camps throughout Portland, Oregon to provide supplies and unconditional love and acceptance, Cheryl’s life purpose is to serve others. She is a firm believer in the power of vulnerability and authenticity to provide healing and purpose. Cheryl holds a BS in Human Development and is certified in the Genesis Recovery Program. She held a key role in developing the LifeChange for Women and Their Children program at Union Gospel Mission in Portland, Oregon where she served as the Lead Case Manager for five years. Cheryl lives with her husband Mark in the Cascade foothills in Southwest Washington. She currently serves as the Executive Director for Camp Hope of SW Washington, a camp focused on equipping youth for the unique challenges of the current generation.

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