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Stop Avoiding Difficult Conversations: How To Truly Listen

So often, small issues between colleagues can snowball into big issues because we just don't think we have the time, patience, or solutions to go there.

If you notice you’re avoiding a conversation or hard topic, because:

  • you’re stressed that you need to have the right solution

  • you might be wrong

  • you don’t know how to fix them or their problem

  • you don’t want to open the floodgates to complaints

  • you’re reluctant to open up potential conflict

Take a deep breath and remember:

It is not your job to ‘fix’ people or solve their problems for them.

As a leader, manager, friend, and partner, often the best thing you can do is listen.

What a relief, right?

Most of the time, people just need to feel seen and heard.

By opening yourself to really listen to what they have to say, and dropping the need to be right or defend yourself, most potential conflicts or issues sort themselves out.


Here's a step-by-step to give it a try:

  1. Take a deep breath, soften your heart and chest, and look at them as a conscious being with a choice (as opposed to a problem).

  2. Ask them to share what is going on.

  3. Find out how they FEEL about the situation. Mine through the objective facts to find the real essence of the issue. You could try questions like, “What’s hard / what sucks for you about that?”

  4. Acknowledge and validate the feeling, using their language. This looks something like, “It makes sense / it’s normal / it’s understandable you feel (their feeling) given (insert the language they used to describe the situation).”

  5. Ask what they need. This looks like, “What do you need to feel less overwhelmed?”

(Notice that up to this point, you haven’t admitted fault, promised anything, or made more work for yourself).

Maybe they need to take a vacation day. Or delegate something. Maybe it has nothing to do with work, and they need to have a hard convo with their partner (life doesn’t exist in silos). Often the care and questions alone will give them the space to come up with their own solution.

6. Option: Ask for a specific, actionable thing you can do to support them. This isn’t just an open-ended thing like 'be nicer', or 'pay me more'. You’re asking them to be specific, like, “It would make me feel more appreciated in this office if you asked about my weekend first, before making a request.”

7. Thank them for sharing. Only if you can truly commit, agree to the request. If you honestly can’t, explain why and request an alternative.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!


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