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Holding a Difficult Conversation

This course hones in on one of the most challenging skills to master – the ability to give “difficult” feedback, engage in meaningful dialogue, and get needed outcomes – all while ensuring that the relationship is maintained (and possibly improved).

Research shows that the majority of people are very ineffective at this important skill. We either don’t engage in the conversation at all, preferring to remain silent. Or, we may engage in the conversation in an overly assertive way where our goal is to compel the other person to our point of view. Either approach is ineffective and typically leads to other problems including individual resentments, team issues, and loss of trust.

This course focuses on the critical skills necessary to hold a meaningful conversation that leads to shared understanding, and improved relationships, for all parties.

“Difficult” conversations typically have three key elements:

  1. Opinions differ
  2. Emotions run strong
  3. Stakes are high

“Difficult” conversations may include but are not limited to:

  • Speaking to a citizen who is not following city guidelines and needs
  • Speaking to a colleague or team member whose behaviours are unhelpful or inappropriate
  • Talking to a more senior manager who is not modeling the way, or not honouring their commitments
  • Trying to get agreement on organizational or business issues where parties strongly disagree on the plan and/or the best way to proceed.
  • Dealing with past situations or outcomes that did not meet expectations or led to conflicts
  • Discussing style or values differences that are getting in the way

At the beginning of the course, we will examine the typical barriers and challenges that cause important conversations to go badly. Then throughout the course, we will learn skills and techniques, as well as a useful process, to hold these challenging conversations. In addition, the course will give participants a chance to practice and role play actual workplace situations that would require a meaningful conversation.

Learning Objectives include:

  • Understanding the “roots” of conflict and how it escalates in conversation
  • How to effectively prepare for the “difficult” conversation
  • How to “open” the conversation in a way that makes it “safe” for both parties and also focuses on achieving mutual purpose
  • Managing your own reactions, and responding to others, throughout the difficult conversation
  • Framing and “reframing” skills
  • Gaining insight into own “style under stress” when faced with difficult conversations, and what we can do to maintain our balance.

A variety of different learning exercises are used to maximize participant learning. This will include role plays replicating actual workplace issues and required conversations.