Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Managing difficult conversations

Managing difficult conversations

Daniel Goleman
Co-Director of Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations

We've all had difficult conversations, often with difficult people. How do you improve the process and outcome of challenging discussions? I recently spoke with Erica Ariel Fox, lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, and member of the internationally acclaimed Program on Negotiation at Harvard
Law School (PON), about how to manage a difficult conversation. Her research on negotiation showed her that improving your interactions with 
others starts with managing how you interact with yourself.

Here's her take on how she came to discover the effectiveness of emotionally intelligent negotiation: "Every difficult conversation is really three conversations. There's the conversation about what happened: the substance, the facts. Each of us has a story about what happened. There's also what they call the feeling conversation, the emotional level. And there's also the identity conversation, which asks "what does this say about me?" Is 
something in my self-image implicated in what's going on here? What's making the conversation difficult for me? Expanding your view of the conversation in this way lets you understand that just battling back and forth to prove that you're right and the other side is wrong is not likely to get you from a breakdown to a breakthrough. 

I've spent a lot of time working with executives, teaching, working in companies, and working in some government situations, and I noticed that 
people had this difficulty trying to deal with the three conversations - they got the concept, but in real time they found it very difficult to use this concept. Even if they practised it in a workshop and got the words to come out of their mouth, their real-time experience was that they weren't doing the best practices that they cognitively knew they should do.

I became extremely interested in this gap, what I later called the Performance Gap, between people's potential to negotiate effectively, which might be very high, and their ability to practice it. In looking at this gap and trying to figure out how you help people in real time bring forward their skilful means and higher nature, I simply asked the question: What if I'm the problem? 

What do I need to do to be more effective to get better results, or develop stronger relationships, or reap the deeper rewards of life in general? I can stop looking out there. I can stop wishing my boss would change. I can stop blaming or judging my family members. I can look inside and ask how am I contributing, how is my relationship with my self leading me to get in my own way? 

Asking yourself if I'm the problem isn't the same as self-blame. If you think about your levers of change, where you can influence - it's not easy to change other people, particularly when you're talking about long-standing habits and mindsets. But you actually do have a quality of autonomy that enables you to grow as a human being. You set that intention, you learn skills, and you shift your mindset. It's extremely empowering to notice that one of the ways to improve your interactions with other people is to get better at how you interact with yourself."

Edited by: Lawyer Asad

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