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Dealing With The Most Difficult People And Conversations At Work


by Andrea J. Lee, author of “We Need To Talk: Your Guide to Challenging Business Conversations

conversations“We need to talk.”

What is it about those four little words that strikes fear into the heart of the bravest business person?

It happens all the time everywhere. People avoid the most difficult conversations, usually because they simply aren’t good at them having never learned how to do it effectively. They prefer to pretend that these kinds of conversations are not bubbling under the surface sapping their energy.  They get used to the drain on them. It’s like they have a parasite in their belly and they don’t realize it. Or they have a monkey on their back (or 10 monkeys) but don’t realize it.

Enough is enough. It’s time to get rid of the stress these unsaid conversations have on them.

Speaking up to have a tough conversation is heroic. It’s real leadership. People think these are small things, but they’re not. We’re actually betraying ourselves when we don’t have these conversations.

Having those difficult conversations improves the health and productivity of all involved due to stress relief. It frees up energy to be creative and reframes the negative emotions by changing their meaning. Here are just some of the practical and powerful recommendations contained in my book “We Need To Talk: Your Guide to Challenging Business Conversations“:

1. Stop This Meeting.

Ever been in an unproductive meeting or even just a stultifyingly dull one? Stopping a meeting and questioning its purpose is one of the most far-fetched things you can do and it immediately opens things up. Becoming the person who is able to speak up and tell the truth empowers him or her and everyone else in the room to be able to say what needs to be said. Change is possible when people speak up.

2. Say No More Often.

Everyone can become better at challenging business conversations and it can start by finding your positive no. We need to say “no” more often. We get overwhelmed by saying yes to too many things. (Some of the yeses become nos anyway, so we may as well say no from the beginning.) Ask why you’re saying the no. For example, why would you say “no” to projects that are painful and don’t pay enough? Answer: So you can say yes to projects that pay higher fees and develop your skills, business experience and acumen. Find the yes behind the no, and empower your no.

3. Give emotions their proper place.

A lot of conversations don’t happen because we’re afraid of our emotions. Breaking up with a business partner, firing that nasty client, or standing up and charging your worth, these are high stake actions. Instead of fearing your emotions, let them fuel you. Think of them as courage vitamins.

4. Use The Delta Model.

Another one of the many powerful tools I offer is called The Delta Model. If you’re having a conversation in which you’re trying to ‘get somewhere’ or help someone else ‘get somewhere’, just take these three simple steps.

Step #1:  Ask your conversation partner:  “Where are you at right now?” Then listen carefully and find out where you conversation partner is right now.

Step #2: Ask your conversation partner: “Where do you want this to go right now?” Then listen carefully and find out where your conversation partner wants to go.

Step #3: Together, come up with suggestions for how you can get from A to B.

It’s surprisingly simple and yet delivers amazing results when people learn how to use it in a savvy way. Even if the solution isn’t as simple, the structure for the conversation can be. The difference is the change that’s desired. The more truthful the answers are to each question, the more robust the results, and that’s where some skill and experience will help.

The Delta Model, this three-step thinking structure, can be used in any situation:

Useful in One-On-One or In Groups, To Make You Look Good In A Pinch

The Delta questions are useful for nitty-gritty one-on-one conversations, as well as for bigger groups. They are excellent tools to pull out in a meeting that’s run amok, particularly if you can find a way to say, “Whoa… this meeting seems to have run off course. May I suggest a way to structure our conversation with three questions?”

You can even whip out the three questions when you’re put on the spot to lead any kind of conversation and you’ll see how well it serves you.

Remove Hidden Agendas as it Builds Credibility And Trust

If you’ve never experienced being the ‘Switzerland’ in a given conversation and think you might like it, there’s one more reason to make the Delta Model one of your go-to’s as a business person. People readily rally under a structure that, in its simplicity, doesn’t seem to have a hidden agenda. You might be surprised at how much more trustworthy you’re perceived to be when you lead in this way.

Remove Excess Emotion and Cut Through Complexity

Heated debates and tough negotiations can also thrive under the 3-questions model, because excess emotion gets removed.

The most complex conversations often have a great deal of jeopardy attached, for example, when a big consulting firm gets a call from their biggest client saying ‘We’re unhappy.’ In cases like these, you should consider throwing everything out and carefully offering the Delta questions. By putting just a few key things back on the table for the conversation, you can often sidestep the baggage and history that’s gumming up the machinery.

To make change, we need to be fearlessly candid about our reality.  Our ability to have great conversations about the toughest of things is going to play a huge role in creating a world we love living in. We have the tools to do it. Now we just need to use them.


andrea j lee

Andrea J. Lee is founder of Thought Partners International, which operates ‘Wealthy Thought Leader University’ – an internationally-known company that has helped thousands of entrepreneurs upturn the status quo. Andrea has coached actively and continuously since 2003, both individually and in groups, in a countless variety of situations and towards a range of deeply-sought goals. She is the author of “We Need To Talk: Your Guide to Challenging Business Conversations“.