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What’s your reason for wanting to have that difficult conversation?

When you ask people that question, very often they’ll tell you something like: ‘I want to make the other person see my point of view’, or ‘I want them to admit they were wrong/they did me wrong/they made a mistake’.

I think it’s fair to say that – very often- most of us go into difficult conversations to  win a disagreement. And to hear we’re right.

But from all my years of coaching people on conflict and effective communication ànd having them myself, I can tell you that ‘winning’ the conflict is actually NOT what you want.

Here’s why:

The reason we get into conflicts

Simply said, we get into conflicts because we disagree on things. We disagree on what really happened, on what is true, on what is the best way forward, on how to resolves something etc etc.

When we disagree with someone, we have a choice: we can accept they feel differently and move on, or we can get into it and try to gain something. The gain can be various things. It can be related to the relationship with the other person (for example: we want to improve the relationship) or the gain can be about the topic of disagreement (for example, we want the other person to accept our point of view is the right one or we want to find a solution for a problem).

When you decide to go into a conflict, you’ll probably see that as a ‘difficult’ conversation. That has to do with two things: the fact that you want the ‘gain’ very badly and/or the fact that the conversation is emotionally charged.

The problem of conflict

The biggest problem with conflict is that most aren’t easy to resolve. Most conflicts are pretty complicated. They’re often not simple & straightforward like a math-problem (2+2=4, however you look at it), but they involve feelings, emotions, assumptions, interpretations, angles etc.

In most disagreements, all parties involved believe deeply in their perspective on things. They’ve felt their feelings, looked at the facts they know, thought about the other people’s reasons and followed their interpretations of things again & again and have come to the conclusion that they are right.

Unfortunately, the other people involved followed a similar strategy and came to the same conclusion.

You’ll understand that the devil here is actually not necessarily in the details as much as it is in the angle from with you approach the details. 

Why you don’t want them to say: ‘You’re right’, and leave it at that

In any disagreement, you can always assume the other people have thought things through just as well as you did. And even though for a large part the facts are the same, they still came to a different conclusion than you. Obviously, there must be some truth in their perspective, because they’re smart, sensitive and open – just like you.

So when you get into the actual conversation, and everyone states how they see things, explain etc, and they say: ‘you’re right’ and want to leave it at that, you should take that as a warning sign: they want to give up their perspective. Why would they do that?

Well, maybe you might have given them sùch great arguments that they no longer believe they were right in  the first place. I agree, this does sometimes happen.
More often though, you’ll find that people say ‘you’re right’ because they want to stop fighting. Maybe they don’t like the direction the conversation takes, maybe they’re scared of the emotions  flying around. Maybe they don’t want to hurt you, or maybe they can’t find the right words to make their case.
And in any and all of these situations, when they say ‘you’re right’, and you accept it, you can be sure it will come back to bite in the behind.
Because it’s not resolved. So it lingers, and festers and it will be brought up again. Maybe in another ‘conversation’ (or fight) or maybe in a passive aggressive underground-kind-of-way. So for things to be resolved and to really be able to move on, you’ll need the courage & strength to work through the disagreements that matter openly, honestly and with integrity. That’s what leads to a way forwards that works!

Rosalie Puiman is the founder of The Sovereign Leader and the author of The Mindful Guide to Conflict Resolution. She works with executives and founding teams to bring forth effective, impactful and purpose-driven success.
Her new course on conflict resolution, PAUSE, will be available from end of March '24 with a live round. Want first dibs? Click here to get on the waitlist!

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