Startup Reading – Do better in stressful conversations

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Startup Reading is an ongoing reading list of articles and resources that I think will be of great value to startups and entrepreneurs.

Taking The Stress Out of Stressful Conversations

full PDF $6.50 from HBR

There are three common patterns of stressful conversations in this article, and I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing each of them, almost exactly as they play out in the examples.  Stressful conversations aren’t something that can be avoided, but in fact are probably some of the most important conversations you will ever have with your co-workers, partners or employees.  The times when emotions are running high and important information needs to be heard are critical make-or-break moments for your relationships and, over time, your company.

Luckily, there are a few key findings from behavioral research that give us tools to use when preparing for a stressful conversation or managing one that’s gone seriously sideways.  The situations and tactics are well described in the article, but a few brief extractions are:

– Disarm by acknowledging responsibility for your part of a problem, even if it’s in the form of “I feel like I’ve let you down by not bringing this up in the past, because I value our relationship and your contributions here, but we need to rectify this issue…”

– Disarm by restating your intentions – often people hear something completely different from your intentions, so it’s not necessary to give ground but instead work to clarify what you really mean: “I can see how you took that from what I said.  That wasn’t what I meant though, so let’s go through this again.” – Don’t argue with them about their perceptions, instead take the responsibility for aligning your words with your intentions.

– Fight tactics, not people.  Some people use aggressive “thwarting” tactics that prevent you from making your points.  The best way to neutralize a tactic like this is to name it, as people are generally not comfortable raising the bar and continuing to be aggressive once it’s out in the open.

A worthwhile read, that pretty much anyone can use to improve their conversational abilities where it’ll do the most good.