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Communicating Emotionally Difficult Information

Aug 17, 2007
You may struggle when it's time to say something sensitive or potentially upsetting to someone you work with. However, sometimes it is necessary to discuss things that must be changed in order for the relationship to continue on a positive note.

Here are nine steps you can use to help you communicate this important information without losing friends and without getting fired.

1. Know your objective for this conversation.
What you want to happen when the conversation ends?
How do you want to feel?
How do you want the other person to feel?
Do you want some action to be taken? What is it?
How will you know when you're done?

2. Ask questions. It's difficult to understand the reasons for someone else's behavior. Often the simplest way to get this kind of information is to simply ask for it. This information will give you what you need to know about the current situation in order to be most likely to reach your own objective. Who else has information you need? Can you research it? Where?

3. Use "I" messages during the conversation to describe how you feel about the situation. You need to express how you feel without sounding as if you are attacking someone else. Start your sentences with I feel, I wish, I'm curious, or I need. Avoid using the word "you" in your sentences.

4. Describe behavior rather than what you believe about the motivation for any particular behavior. Describe what happened as a television camera might have recorded it. Leave out your judgment about what happened.

5. Ask for help. When you ask for help, start your sentence with "will you" or "will you please." Be very specific about what you need or want.

"Please send me a copy of the letter before you send it out," is much more specific than "will you please keep me in the information loop." "Bring the dessert to serve six people," is much more specific than "bring something to share for the party."

6. Be vulnerable rather then controlling. Say "ouch" when you feel hurt rather than trying to force someone to stop hurting you. Doing this allows someone else the opportunity to help relieve your pain.

7. Assume that everyone involved has good intentions. This may or may not be true to start with, but if you approach the situation with this attitude, others are likely to be cooperative in response.

8. Allow others to save face. Own your part in the misunderstanding, even if you think you were perfectly clear and a hundred percent correct. Preface your conversation with statements like "I might not have explained to myself clearly," or "I know you were very busy when I presented that to you."

If you create an excuse for somebody, that person will be less likely to try to defend him or herself.

9. Suggest an outcome in which everybody will feel like a winner. It helps to know the details of what others consider most important. Often it's possible for you to let someone else have what he or she most wants at little cost to yourself.
About the Author
Communicate skillfully about sensitive subjects in business situations. Have the challenging conversations that lead to cooperation and success. http://www.DareToSayIt.com/blog
Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. is a Master Certified Coach and communication expert. Dr. Weiss has spent 35 years helping clients resolve conflict in business and personal relationships. Email feedback@laurieweiss.com
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