Navigating Difficult Conversations
By definition, boards of directors bring together diverse opinions and beliefs. As a result, building consensus and moving an organization forward can require conversations that may be outside of an individual’s comfort zone. Columnist Elizabeth Bernstein provides several tips on how to make these difficult talks easier. The first rule of thumb is "don't rush into it." Conversations undertaken at the very beginning of a crisis or in the heat of the moment often don't go well. Explain to the other person you want to have an important conversation and ask when it would be a good time to chat. Second, start with a question. Try to learn where the other parties involved stand on the matter rather than making assumptions. "You may not like what you hear, but at least you can find some common ground on the actual issue in dispute," reasons Dr. Woody Woodward, an organizational psychologist in Jersey City, N.J.

A third tip is to "listen compassionately." To this end, focus on listening more than talking to fully understand what is being said by all parties. During this phase of the difficult discussion, allow all sides to express emotion and be sure not to say things like, "You shouldn't feel that way" or "You are overreacting." Fourth, lower the emotional intensity of the discussion by complimenting the person, perhaps recognizing other strengths. Next, be clear about what your goals are in having this difficult talk. Ask yourself: "What do you want to get out of the discussion?" Write this down beforehand and consider taking notes during the talk if it will help you and the meeting stay on track. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, view the talk as a positive opportunity to make the situation better.
Wall Street Journal (07/17/17) Bernstein, Elizabeth
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