( 3 minute read )

If you’re following social distancing guidelines, interaction in real life has been abbreviated to a quick hello at the grocery store, a moment of chit-chat with a barista, or a smile and wave on the sidewalk. These days, digital communication tools have likely replaced many of your in-person conversations. 🗣

And it’s not just “Hi, how are you?” exchanges that are taking place virtually. Many of our most difficult or vulnerable conversations—related to work, relationships, or finances—now happen virtually instead of physically.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Using text-based communication (messaging, chat, email) conversations about scary or tough subjects offers a measure of safety that real-time interactions (face-to-face, voice, video) simply cannot.

Here are some ways you can make things a lot easier for you and for the other person. Because vulnerable conversations can be kind of scary. 😳

1.    create a safe environment.

It’s important to make all parties to a challenging conversation feel like they are on an even footing. Only in an atmosphere of mutual respect, Harvard professors Sheila Heen, Bruce Patton, and Douglas Stone write in Difficult Conversations, can honesty happen.

Embracing a mutual purpose is also important. Chances are, both you and the other party wants to move forward in a mutually agreeable way. By seeing their perspective as equally as valid as your own, you can meet the person where they are and position yourself to be an active listener. 👂

2.    seek to understand rather than be understood.

Real listening requires genuine engagement in what the other person is saying. Too often, interpersonal conflicts or miscommunications occur because we assume what someone is thinking or feeling—rather than learning where they’re really coming from.

The book Crucial Confrontations reveals a technique known as AMPP that can help you become a better listener:

A:  Ask the other person to discuss their feelings.
M: Mirror the speaker’s feelings (“It sounds like that was upsetting for you”) to encourage them to share.
P:   Paraphrase the person’s responses in your own words (“It upset you to learn that.”)
P:   Prime the pump by guessing aloud what the other person is thinking or feeling.

The AMPP technique is especially useful over text/chat/email, where you have a visual record of the conversation that can facilitate understanding. 🤩

3.    give the other person time to respond

The “action learning” framework used by many big companies highlights another key component of difficult conversations: pausing to absorb. 🤔

Taking the time to listen and reflect on what’s been shared allows time everyone’s emotions to subside. This is one way that text-based conversations are better than ones conducted in real time. With an asynchronous communication medium like messaging or email, each party can respond to each other after they’ve reflected and feel ready. And that will help you steer the conversations the desired outcome.

4.    focus on the positive

Joel Garfinkle, an executive leadership coach, argues that positivity is essential to making difficult conversations work. In his Harvard Business Review blog, Garfinkle suggests that you go into your tough conversations with the belief that you’ll come out better place—no matter how tough it may be to get there.

When you presume positivity, the words you use and the tone you convey will be more approachable and friendly than ones you’d use for a debate or argument. The other person is therefore less likely to be defensive or guarded and more open to hearing what you’re saying.

Difficult conversations are a part of life. But using a text-based medium like illumy gives you options that voice, video, or phone calls simply can’t. And for the times you want to switch to live-action conversations, illumy does that seamlessly as well.  😎

Photo by Niilo Isotalo on Unsplash

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