When we communicate with other people, we all come from different perspectives which inform how we communicate. These can be perspectives about our lives, about the situation we are discussing, or about experiences we have had. We all receive communications in different ways, and all of that means that conversations can be very challenging.  

Work usually brings us into contact with a range of people who are different to us. That’s the enriching thing about work. You work with people who have different perspectives and lives, and you learn from each other. Let’s be clear though, there are challenges with that; and there will be disagreements. Everyone has things to learn, and no-one will always get things right. Here are three reasons why people are challenged by conversations.

We take feedback differently

Some people are used to stating what they think and how they feel and expecting everyone else to agree with them. That’s the reason why there are CEO’s who never speak first in meetings. Their opinion can stop other people from saying what they think, and there are many situations where there are disagreements. Some will feel they can state how they feel but others will just sit and listen to them. There will of course be others who don’t feel comfortable saying how they feel at all and that can cause problems. And yes, this can lead to disagreements, arguments, and people feeling like they can’t say what they think, or are not listened to. This is one of the most challenging things about conversations and can lead to confrontations, upset, or people feeling like they cannot say what they think.

To overcome this, it’s important to think about different perspectives. Think about how your communication might be received and how it might make the other person feel. Remember not all feedback is negative! There are times when it’s about communicating positive feedback, and that needs to be done in a positive way, so it is heard and received by the other person.

We communicate in different ways

Which leads me onto methods of communication. We all have a preference for certain methods of communication for conversations. Some of us prefer face to face, or video, or phone. Others of us prefer email or instant messaging, and we often forget to think about the person we are communicating with and what their preference is. So an introvert may find a face to face discussion about something challenging extremely uncomfortable. Some people are happy to communicate negative feedback in emails and messages. Others find that really uncomfortable and want a face-to-face discussion. All of this is complicated, as it involves emotions and feelings.

To improve on this, takes some time to think about your own preferences, think about what other people’s preferences might be, and ask them. It’s important not to enforce your own preference on someone else without checking with them to see what they would like.

We all have emotions

And that brings me onto the obvious but important point, we all have emotions and they can be difficult to control in challenging conversations. So, if someone says something to someone else which hurts them, it can feel upsetting, make you angry or cause you to not want to communicate with that person again. It’s those differences between people which cause these things. For example, someone might use an example, or make a joke about something which offends the other person; that then brings emotions into it. Those emotions can be anger, upset, hurt or something else, and all of that makes the conversation challenging.

There’s no simple answer to this one. It’s about preparing for challenging conversations and thinking about the other person and how they might feel. This is a skill that leaders should take time to work on, so that they can approach these subjects feeling prepared. Leaders need to be able to communicate with people who are different to them, and lead teams of different people where there is very likely to be disagreements.

Conversations about difficult subjects are always going to be challenging, because we are all so different. No one gets this right all the time. Everyone has times where they feel they have not been communicated to in a way that made them, or the person they are talking to, feel comfortable.

This is a subject that is often raised when we run our training courses. So that’s why we created our Challenging Conversations training course. In this course we look at why and how conversations are challenging, and strategies to help you. Email hello@watchthisspace.uk to find out more.