Difficult conversations are part of everyone’s life. This can be especially true for farm families who work together, make decisions together, and face succession planning together, just to name a few.
When a crucial conversation needs to be had, there are three options, said Jenn Bentley during an Iowa State Extension Dairy News and Views podcast episode. Those options are to avoid the conversation, face it and handle it poorly, or face it and handle it well.
“Part of what makes them crucial is that we have opposing opinions,” added fellow dairy extension agent Gail Carpenter. This high level of emotion makes it easier to just clam up and not talk about the issue even when we may know it needs to be brought up.
But coming to a conclusion that works as well as possible for everyone requires discussion. Handling that fragile situation well means being upfront, honest, and considerate, the dairy Extension team discussed during the episode.
Before you have a hard conversation, think about what your role is in it. Assume that the people you’re talking with have others’ best interests at heart, said Bentley. Then, start with your good intention. What do you want for yourself or the other person or your relationship? This can help put that person at ease, said Carpenter.
From there, move into the facts of the situation. Refer to past agreements that have been made or actions you’ve seen. Use those to explain what stories you have been telling yourself based on this information. This might include what you are feeling or asking how the other person is seeing the situation. We often tell ourselves stories when there’s not enough information to fill in all the details, described extension educator Fred Hall. Asking for more details can help clear up the situation.
Then you can move into your ask — what do you want to change? If you’re on the receiving end of this conversation, you may want to paraphrase what the person says and repeat it back to them to make sure you are on the same page.
Don’t forget to follow up on the conversation later, said Carpenter. Without that step, you’ll probably just have the same issues and same conversation months down the road.
Of course, in emotionally charged scenarios, it is easy for us to say things we don’t mean or for our words to get misconstrued. One way to help make clear meaning is starting by explaining what you don’t mean, said extension educator Larry Tranel. “I’m not trying to say X. What I am saying is X,” can be used to be more clear and keep emotion to a minimum. Do not put a “but” between the statements, as that will only negate the first part, the team agreed.
“Once it gets charged, it’s a little tough to diffuse it,” reminded Tranel. In some situations, a facilitator may be valuable to keep everyone on track. At the end of the day, difficult conversations are about making a change that benefits all parties, and strong emotion can blur the viewpoints that make that possible.
“If we aren’t building these relationships and having these critical conversations, we probably aren’t as good at our jobs as we could be,” summarized Hall.