Sometimes, a difficult conversation comes out of the blue.
Occasionally, you’re not aware that a conversation is needed – so you can’t be proactive and prepare for it. The timing of the conversation has the initiator on the front-foot and you caught on the hop. It can be a disconcerting feeling, particularly for those who are used to being in control of most of the situations that they find themselves in.
Today, a colleague who I hold in the highest regard, initiated a conversation with me about a recent change at our school. This may seem strange, but I’d been expecting to (secretly hoping to) have this conversation with someone for the previous week – to the point of having ‘rehearsed’ what I would say in my head. I was going to seek understanding, explore their thoughts on the issue and then promote my position with well balanced arguments, even witty retorts…
But I was caught off-guard. I wasn’t expecting this conversation – either from this person or at this time! My prepared thoughts were scattered in the morning breeze..
This experience was valuable though. I was involved in a difficult conversation that I hadn’t initiated, so I had to adapt my thoughts to that position. I had to listen – really listen – and seek a deeper understanding of my colleagues feelings. These are skills that are typically associated with difficult conversations but are often promoted from the position of being the initiator. Listening, seeking understanding, thinking win/win – these are all so much easier to do when you have been able to prepare and initiate the conversation.
Following the conversation, I felt a strange sense of relief – like I had tested myself and come through unscathed. If I could handle an unscripted, unprepared conversation in a respectful, empathetic and co-operative fashion then I could hopefully handle myself in any such conversation.