Some conversations are easier to have than others. Whether it’s talking to our boss about an issue at work or speaking to a partner about a sensitive topic, sometimes conversations that need to be had get swept under the rug instead. Coach Sharon is an expert at facilitating the types of tough conversations that need to happen in order to overcome obstacles and achieve incredible outcomes. In this episode, Sharon explains how to prepare and engage in tough conversations in ways that achieve win-win outcomes for all.
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Victoria: Hello, I’m Victoria Mills, founder and CEO of hello, coach and host of Hello CoachCast. Today, I’m talking with Sharon about how to have these tough conversations.
Sharon brings over 10 years of coaching experience as a specialist in the areas of physical performance, as well as mental and emotional wellbeing from coaching individuals to improve their relationships, to helping sports teams optimise their performance outcomes. Coach Sharon is an expert at facilitating the types of tough conversations that need to happen in order to overcome obstacles and achieve incredible outcomes.
Sharon, welcome today.
Sharon: Thank you so much.
Victoria: Sharon, we all know that some conversations are easier to have than others. There are some topics that many of us just want to avoid, whether it’s talking to our boss about an issue at work, or even potentially just asking a friend for a big favour or speaking to our partner about a topic that may be sensitive to us.
We often worry about upsetting the other person, or we may have concerns that we just won’t feel supported after sharing something. So first off, why is it so important to have these difficult conversations instead of putting them off or avoiding them?
Sharon: Yeah, absolutely. Great question. So I, I guess there are two parts to that. Number one, avoidance just makes the matter, build up, build up, build up, build up in our own minds. And it, you know, the longer the period of time that extends between. Acknowledging there’s or realising there’s an issue and actually having that conversation, the more that we can run the risk of creating tension in a relationship… the more that we are going to feel that sense of stress within ourselves.
And, as that stress builds in our own mind, we are making the issue bigger than it really needs to be. So it’s, it’s really important that we make sure that we have the conversation as soon as it… as soon as the issue arises.
And second, to that, honesty is always the best policy with these types of conversations. And, sometimes, sometimes yes, the conversation can feel a bit sensitive, but ultimately at the end of the day, if you’re coming at this conversation depending on the type of conversation that it is, but if you’re coming at it from a place of genuine care and genuine respect, then the person that’s also involved in that conversation is going to appreciate the fact that you’ve brought the topic to their attention or that you’ve raised the issue. And that nurtures relationships, rather than causing them to deteriorate.
Victoria: So if we know that there is something really important that is on our hearts that we would like to share – I mean, we’ve both been coaches for a very long period of time – in your sessions with clients, what are some of your tips to prepare the space to be able to have one of those difficult conversations?
Sharon: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the most important things I think is taking control of your own mindset going into the conversation. So first of all, start off with a really clear understanding for yourself about what you would like the ideal outcome to be of that conversation and aim to make that outcome what I call or what we often call in the coaching world, a win-win outcome.
So that it’s good for you, it’s good for the other person. And it’s good, ultimately for the greater good. By doing that, you are going to have a much greater chance of making sure that the conversation goes down a path that’s a positive one, rather than sort of falling down a rabbit hole whatever might incur around blame or, regret or, whatever it might be that if you don’t start with that clear outcome.
So first of all, start with a clear outcome in mind. Second of all, before you have the conversation, take a moment to just really settle yourself. You know, sometimes we can get ourselves all worked up. We get anxious, our heart rate goes up. We get a bit nervous about coming into these conversations.
And so take a few moments, take a few deep breaths. again, visualize the outcome that you want to create. And, in taking those few deep breaths and really connecting with your sense of calm, your sense of relaxation.
Again, you’re going to have a much better chance of having this conversation go smoothly. So they’re two key points that you must bring into the conversation before you even go into the conversation.
Victoria: How can you keep the conversation on track? So it’s one thing to prepare yourself before you go into that space to have the conversation with whoever it is that you’d like to share something with, but then when you sit down with them, it can happen very quickly. And before you know it, the conversation has completely derailed emotions start to fly you’re down a rabbit hole, and suddenly you can’t get out of it.
So what are some, tips that you have helped coach clients through? Just to stay on track with the topic and the outcome that they would like to get to before it gets to a state where everything’s imploded again.
Sharon: Yeah. Yeah. And again, great question. So once you get into that conversation, I think it’s really important for both people to hear and agree and, and realise what the outcome of the conversation is. So again, it’s coming back to outcomes, but if both people can be aware of, okay, what is, what is the outcome that we are wanting to get to by the end of this conversation, then it’s easier to pull you both back onto topic.
If it does tend to go down that bit of a rabbit hole, the other, the other thing is I, I think it, and this takes a little bit of, a little bit of skill and a little bit of practise, but sometimes emotions are what leads us to places that we don’t necessarily want to go.
So as much as possible be aware of your own emotional state, understand, when you are getting emotionally caught up and when you are, you know, you’re feeling whether it be frustrated or you’re feeling sad or you’re feeling hurt or you’re feeling nervous. Be really mindful of these feelings that crop up within you during the conversation and get good at putting those, putting those emotions aside for the purpose of the conversation and go back to, okay, what is, what is the logic here?
What are the facts? What do we know, to be true rather than letting those emotions sidetrack, you down a rabbit hole.
Victoria: So sometimes when I’ve been having conversations with clients, tackling some of these, these tougher conversations, if emotions do start to flare up, it can be wise at that point to actually stop the conversation and to be able to put a line in the sand and say, look– clearly, we’re not gonna get to a decision at this point. Why don’t we park it?
And we come back to it and set a time and a date to revisit that conversation when emotions aren’t as charged, because otherwise we just loop and we go around in this emotional cycle without actually getting to a place of sharing or getting to the outcome that we actually want.
So are there, realistically, outcomes that you should or shouldn’t aim for? And even though I’m not a fan of the words should or shouldn’t – but realistic outcomes – is there such a thing as unrealistic outcomes to get out of one of these tough conversations?
Sharon: Yeah, I think sometimes there is. And so sometimes when we’re aiming for that outcome to be a resolution-based outcome, it’s not realistic for the, for the point that you’ve just raised, you know, we get caught up or even we run out of time, you know, the conversation goes too deep and we run out of time.
And so basing the outcome on having a resolution is not necessarily a great one. I think the better outcome to focus on is that everybody feels heard. Everybody feels understood. Everybody gets an opportunity to express their opinion. When the time is right, and when all the facts can be shared and when everybody can have their opinion heard, then the resolution can come in a timely manner, but not necessarily does it have to be within that one conversation or within that one meeting.
Victoria: Because you’ve had lots of experience in helping clients mediate and navigate tough conversations, what are some tips that you have shared with your clients as a coach, being able to have difficult conversations? Because it’s one thing to know the outcome that you would like out of that conversation. But what if the person that you need to have that tough conversation with isn’t as open to sitting down and having a talk, because some people avoid talking at all costs and it’s very difficult to resolve things when they’re also not on the same page.
So what are some tips to be able to set the space up to initiate and drop the seed or the initial thought that, yes, I’d love to be able to sit down with you, because sometimes when we even hear those words, "Oh, we need to talk" people’s guards automatically go up and they will avoid at all costs? So what are some nice tips to help encourage the initiation of that space?
Sharon: Yeah, absolutely. I always share with my clients that the best, the best protocol to having open communication is to first seek to understand. And if you go into a conversation or if you approach a conversation, or if you aim to set up a conversation with first and aim to understand the other person. The other person will be much more receptive, and much more open to having a conversation.
We all like to feel understood. We all like to feel like we have our opportunity to express what’s on our mind or in our heart. And by first instigating that process of understanding, then it gives us an opportunity. Number one, hear what’s really going on for that other person so that we can be flexible and we can adapt and we can make sure that we’re addressing all of their needs.
And second of all, it brings the focus of the conversation to less about blame or accusation or anything negative like that. It’s actually just purely opening it up to hear what’s really going on I’d love to know.
Victoria: In your years as a coach, are there themes that show up with your clients on topics that are common? In terms of common, tough topics, that clients have come to you for.
Sharon: Yeah, certainly around the field of relationships, couples can have a really good relationship and yet still find sticking points in their relationship, right? And there’ll be something that the other person is doing or, a trajectory that the couple is working towards, that perhaps they don’t both feel in line with.
So, know, it can be really simple things like, you know, basic household operations, you know, you don’t put the dishes away properly, or I really need your help a little bit more around the house with some of the housework or the kids really need some of your support. It, it can be, you know, conversations like that.
It can also be conversations of ‘We’ve had a major shift in the chapter of our life as a couple and we are ready for the next journey, but I don’t know what that next journey is’. So it can be those bigger conversations right down to the everyday daily conversations where sometimes there can be a bit of sensitivity and, people prefer to just sort of sweep it under the rug almost, or not raise the conversation for hurting the other person or for fear of creating a bit of uncertainty or instability in the relationship.
So certainly, in that context around relationships, that’s a really common one in your experiences as a coach? Why is it that some conversations are just difficult because, ideally, no matter how prickly the topic, any relationship – it doesn’t matter whether it’s partner, boyfriend, husband, aunt, uncle, parents – if you value the relationship, then there should not be any topic that is too hard or too tough, because if you actually don’t invest the time to have the conversation, then that relationship has no chance to thrive.
So sometimes just being able to go, well, you know what? This is important to me. So therefore I want to reframe and take the charge of, ‘Yes, this is a difficult conversation, this is a conversation that I need to have and I want to have, because I value the relationship and it’s important to me’.
Victoria: Sometimes we go into it with a preloaded, emotional anchor, or a fear going into that space. I’m wondering in your years as a coach, what are some of the mindsets that your clients have had that haven’t helped them set the space up for these conversations? It’s a reverse question, Sharon.
Sharon: We love reverse questions. I think it’s two different points of view potentially, obviously, depend on the individual. But number one, it can come back to – like what you’ve already highlighted – is that the person who wants to raise the conversation doesn’t want to feel like they’re going to hurt the other person by saying something that could be potentially prickly or, or sensitive to.
So it’s about looking after the other person not wanting to hurt them or upset them, but also I think, and maybe even more than that, it’s the fear of the unknown that happens after these kinds of conversations and, B, because potentially these conversations can create ripple effects. And ideally, we want them to create ripple effects.
We want them to create change, but we can’t always predict what that change is actually going to be. We can guess, but we don’t always know for sure. And so I think. The potential for change is sometimes a really positive prospect, but also a very scary one for people. And I think to help people with that and to lean into that, it’s ultimately going back to trusting in the relationship.
If it’s in the context of a relationship to know that, look, if this person is, the person that either looks up to you or loves you dearly or someone who’s very important to you and has your best interests at heart, then ultimately no matter where the ripple effects occur, they’re going to be positive ones or at least it’s going to be okay.
And it’s trusting in that knowledge and trusting in the relationship and also trusting in yourself to know that you’re doing this with the very best of intentions, to create a positive outcome for both you and, also the other.
Victoria: Are there different approaches in the navigation that you’ve helped your clients with? Are there different approaches that you can take… i.e, the style of conversation, if it’s with your boss versus the style of conversation with someone in your family, is there a different approach or is it, have you found in your observation of your clients it’s a very similar approach and that is being able to set the space up?… i.e., check that the time works, regardless of who it is. So they’re present, you are present. Is it a similar process? No matter who is actually on the other end of the receiving of hearing what it is that you’d like to share?
Sharon: Yeah, I believe so. and I believe that the more authentic that you can be, and the more honest that you can be coming into these conversations, whether they be professional or personal context, the better off the conversation is going to go. And sure, maybe the context changes a little bit between those two settings, but I think overall the approach is the same.
Victoria: Well, I think there’s been some wonderful tips and insights that you have shared Sharon. Without communication, nothing has a chance to shift. Nothing has a chance to grow into something quite extraordinary. And sometimes as you said, there is a ripple impact. And I always like to believe that no matter what’s discussed in a conversation, that it has a chance for something really wonderful to come out of it with whatever that path is.
And we always know as coaches, a single conversation can be incredibly life-changing if you give it the time and space to have that. So thank you very much for joining us here today and thank you to all of our listeners for joining us today.
We certainly hope that you’ve gained lots of valuable tools and insights into how to manage tough conversations successfully. So thank you very much, Sharon, for joining me.
Sharon: Thank you so much.