Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 05 Conversation 1

Tuesday Tip from Pride Institute: How to avoid difficult conversations

May 12, 2015
There are many dynamics that contribute to difficult conversations. Understanding them will lead to conversations becoming easier with staff and patients, and in your personal life as well!

Editor’s Note: Use these tips and you’ll soon find that conversations with your staff and patients do not have to be so diffucult.

You start off calmly conversing about what happened to Mrs. Smith’s lab case, but you end up in a blame storm of recriminations and tears. What happened? In the book “Difficult Conversations,” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, the authors assert that people often actually have three conversations simultaneously. They talk about what happened, their feelings about the situation, and how this situation affects their identity. When these three conversations converge, the situation is magnified and people end up having a difficult conversation.

The first and most obvious conversation we have is the “what happened” conversation. There are three elements in this first conversation:1. Truth assumption – We play detective to prove we’re right. But is it about rightness or about perceptions and interpretations?2. Intention invention – We assume we know our own and others’ intentions. But people have mixed intentions, no intentions, and even good intentions that hurt us.3. The blame frame – It’s someone’s fault (and usually not yours.) The focus, though, should really be on contribution, not attribution.

The second conversation we have is the “feelingsconversation.” Difficult conversations don’t just involve feelings; they are about feelings. Consciously or unconsciously we ask:
• Do I have a right to feel this way?
• Did the other person make me feel this way?
• Do my feelings count more than the other person’s?

It’s not really a question of whether emotions will affect this situation, but what to do about them when they arise. Some people think they should only be “rational” in conversations and feelings shouldn’t be taken into account. But understanding and managing feelings are key components of emotional intelligence and courageous conversations.

The third conversation is possibly the most impactful – the “identity conversation.” Before or during difficult conversations we have a conversation within ourselves about what the situation means to our identity. Am I competent? Am I a good person? Am I worthy of love?

This is the most powerful and challenging conversation because it impacts self-esteem and self-image. Difficult conversations are tricky precisely because they are also about you. There’s a lot at stake.

To transform a difficult conversation into a courageous conversation, you have to first be aware of all the internal factors that affect your perspective. This can be done with honesty, integrity, and yes, courage.

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