You’ve heard all the cliches. That life isn’t always going to be a bed of roses or a bowl of cherries. The truth is that you’re going to have challenges from the day you’re born until the day you die.

You’re going to have plenty of situations where you will be confronted with the need for some constructive, skillful TOUGH CONVERSATIONS. The question is, do you know what to say? Or do you know how to say it? Most people don’t know. So let me give you three tips.

► 1. Assess your present tough-conversation skill level.

It’s a part of being Emotionally Intelligent. When you’re Emotionally Intelligent, you’re aware of your negative feelings in tough situations, such as anger, frustration and disappointment and you know how to regulate or communicate your feelings effectively.

How good would you say you are? For a bit more insight, take this simple quiz. Just answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions.

Do you use sarcasm in your communications with team members or other people when things are not going as well as you think they should?

Do you frequently say “yes” to action items in meetings or agree to take on work and then regret it later?

Do you feel the need to crack a joke or change the subject during tough conversations?

Do you find it easier to set the record straight or vent your frustration in an e-mail rather than in person?

Are your relationships with your coworkers, friends, and family members more superficial than you would like and limited to certain subjects or the task at hand?

Do you get upset or take it personally when your boss, a coworker, friend or family member is angry?

Do you ever find yourself dwelling on a conflict with coworkers or coworkers or fantasizing about ways to get even?

Do you spend time mulling in your mind, over and over again, about what you need to say to someone else and then find reasons not to have that tough conversation?

The more “yes” answers you have, the greater your need for improving your tough-conversation skills. You feel a little unskilled, a bit incapable, or too uncomfortable to have some of the tough conversations you need to have.

That’s why I invite you to my live, virtual presentation on June 22, 2023 on How To Have TOUGH CONVERSATIONS That Produce Results. You can choose to attend the 9-10:00 AM EST class or the 5-6:00 PM EST class.

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After you’ve assessed your tough-conversation skill level, to improve your skills, I suggest that you …

► 2. Make sure the other person can USE the feedback you give.

Before you open your mouth and confront someone, ask yourself, “Can the person do anything about the problem?” Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it is no.

Before you criticize someone, make sure the other person is able to change. Make sure they are able to do something about the problem. If not, your “tough conversation” is not only frustrating, it is also useless.

I remember serving on a task force to study the police force of a major city. We were to help them with their public relations as well as the efficiency with which they did their jobs.

After several weeks of work, however, we had not accomplished very much because our task force lacked a leader. So I decided to fill that role as best I could.

Three of the task force members were supportive and I was fairly successful as the group leader. However, one member of the team blocked every move I made. Nothing I suggested met with her approval. So I asked her what was wrong with my leadership. I needed some feedback.

She said simply, “I decided a long time ago that I would never follow a man who was younger and smaller than I am.”

While her feedback helped me understand her antagonism towards me, there wasn’t much I could do with her feedback. I couldn’t suddenly grow four inches or add ten years.

So what’s the lesson? Before you open a tough conversation, make sure you’re confronting a problem that the other person can fix.

Of course, that doesn’t always mean that the other person will listen to, accept, and follow through on your feedback. That takes a few additional skills that I will address in our upcoming program on How To Have TOUGH CONVERSATIONS That Produce Results.

► 3. Use the spectatoring-communication skill.

It takes away the spirit of animosity or the feeling of “You’re wrong and I’m right.” It removes the friction of me-against-you.

Spectatoring is giving feedback from a third person’s point of view. Instead of talking about how the other person is screwing up, rather than talking about how you’re so right on this issue, talk about how a third person might see the other person’s behavior and what they might suggest.

Take Bob, for example. He liked to pretend he was a sports car driver and he liked to push his car to the limits … going as fast as he could … darting in and out of traffic. And no amount of “constructive criticism” from his wife got him to change his behavior.

Then, one day as he was driving like a maniac, his wife put a hand on his shoulder and calmly whispered, “Bob, your daughter is watching you very carefully right now.” His daughter didn’t hear … as she was getting into the thrill of fast driving. After all she was just two years from getting a driver’s license and looked forward to driving the same way.

It was a powerful spectatoring message. Bob said his wife’s words resonated in his mind for weeks. Nothing else needed to be said. From then on, he drove more slowly and more responsibly.

Take a moment to think how you might use the spectatoring message approach in one of your tough situations. It works!