Your first words and the tone you set when you start a conflict discussion set the stage for the outcome you’ll gain. If you want a positive outcome, avoid beginning your discussion with words that create defensiveness or strike terror into the other’s heart, such as “we need to talk” or worse, “I’m so angry I could scream.” Opening statements like these end the conversation before it starts.
Why we often forget to think about how we open a conflict discussion
If a problematic initial approach torpedoes positive outcomes, why do so many of us begin the wrong way? Perhaps because. . .
- Emotions you’ve buried bubble up, and burst like a flood of hot words through a dam;
- You’re so focused on what you to say that you don’t pay attention to the climate you set;
- You feel so much dread about bringing up the problem that it shows on your face and seeps into your voice, making the other person want to back away.
Regardless of your reasons, or excuses, how you start matters.
Words and approach that work
For the last decade, I’ve begun ninety percent of the problem discussions I’ve initiated with these words: “I’d like us to have a good conversation. I’ll know it’s good if you feel it’s good and I do as well.” These words seem to disarm the other person, letting them know I care that they also feel comfortable in the discussion. They also set the stage for the other person and I to partner in talking things through.
Other effective beginnings include:
- “I’d like to bring something up, and learn what you think, so we can be on the same page.”
- “Could we talk about what just happened?”
- “I’d like to hear your thoughts about….”
- “I noticed ___ and I was wondering what your thoughts were.”
Along with the words you use, consider the tone you set
When you want things to become right with the other person and yourself, begin by getting yourself right. Commit to truth as your compass to keep you aimed correctly and respect as the rudder that steers you. Avoid the temptation to attack. You’re not holding court; you’re meeting the other person in an open dialogue.
Finally, along with your words, let yourself hear the tone in your voice. If inner tension or fear make you sound as if you have a whip or whine in your voice, you’ll torpedo the results you seek.
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy https://workplacecoachblog.com/2021/10/own-your-piece-of-the-action/ (which reminds you “Anyone would have reacted the way I did” isn’t your best excuse) and “Energy Vampires;” “Mastering Criticism;” “Listening for Results” and other chapters in Solutions: 411: Workplace Answers 911: Revelations for Workplace Challenges and Firefights, https://amzn.to/3kQF7HR.
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