Managing the 2nd Type of Conflict - Having the Difficult Conversation
The difficult conversation model is comprised of three stages: Preparation - Conversation - Conclusion. At each stage there are clear requirements without which there is no point in, and often no possibility of, moving on to the next stage. If I don't prepare myself properly the conversation will not be successful, and if I don't handle the conversation correctly there is nothing to conclude.

Stage One - Preparation
The first stage in the difficult conversation model is also the most important.

There are two common and destructive traps during a difficult conversation which usually go together: "The Past" trap and the "I Blame" trap. The latter is due to the human need to "be right". But "I'm right" usually leads to "you're wrong". How exactly does this help you progress towards your goals? Well, usually it doesn't, especially if you want and/or need to see the other person again the next day! Even if you are right, and the other person was "wrong" because they didn’t do what they promised they would, or were inconsiderate, etc., how can executing him or her help you achieve your goals?
We fall into "The Past" trap for the same reasons. "The Past" trap refers to the oh-so-human need to prove to other person that something did/didn't happen, that he or she did or didn't act intentionally, or know, say, etc. How is this relevant? Usually, as with the "I Blame" trap, it isn't. It is simply part of the pattern of "proving the other person wrong", which, as we've noticed, does not help me.

We can avoid falling into these traps by correctly defining our own goals before beginning the conversation. In this case, "correctly" means that my goals are defined: 1. in "From Now On" terms - what I want to happen from now on (and not about what happened in the past), and 2. in terms "Relating to Myself" - what I want to feel or accomplish (and not what I want the other person to do). Defining your goals in aggressive terms or in a way which deals with the past will only invite an attack and/or argument from the other side over what did or didn't happen. What for?

When you find that your goals include the words "revenge" or "showing him/her" etc. - why bother talking? Just pour some thumbtacks into their coffee and call it a day.

Another important thing to do before the second stage is to repeat over and over again the simple principle: "Existent = Legitimate". Both you and the other person will have different ideas about what happened, why it happened, what your intentions were, what is the right thing to do, and so on. Usually, when we encounter an opinion opposed to our own, our instinct is to protest, to say "that's not true", or to talk about our intentions. Ahhhh, but that would be a mistake!

"Existent = Legitimate" is a simple rule based on the fact that change can occur easily from a place of acceptance and not from a place of resistance. Even if you feel outraged at the other person's opinion (and there's a good chance you will, at least initially), this is his or her opinion right now, and fighting over it will probably cause them not to reexamine it but to cling to it even tighter! Even if you see that the other party has completely misunderstood you, right now that is their interpretation! So let them express it. An opinion is like a hat; a strong wind (attempts at persuasion) makes us hold on to our hats tightly, while the sun (acknowledgment and acceptance by the other) is the quickest way to get someone to take off their hat. The road to achieving your goal - getting the other party to understand your point of view and act accordingly - passes through accepting their opinion. Accepting is not agreeing. Accepting means understanding that the other person has gone through cognitive and emotional processes which have resulted in them seeing the situation differently than you do, and you can change this perception faster and with less of a struggle when you accept that it exists.

Emotions are often an inevitable part of the difficult conversation. There is a tremendous difference between expressing emotions and being driven by them. The former is important, even necessary, in long term relationships, while the other usually leads to saying things which take us even further from achieving our objectives. A clear definition of our goals can assist us here, too. Having our well-defined goals in front of us makes it easier to express how we feel rather than be driven by our emotions. To put it simply: If you're upset, postpone the conversation until you are calm!

Stage Two - The Conversation
"Armed" with properly formulated goals and the willingness to accept the other person's views, whatever they may be, outline your point of view. Stick to the main idea, don't get carried away and start pontificating on the finer points, and give the other person a chance to explain their point of view as soon as possible. The operative word here is listening. Listening is the simplest, most effective (and I'm tempted to say only, but I won't) way of bringing people down from their apex. This is your main goal at this point in the conversation! I know, I know, you haven't clarified your point of view yet - we'll get to that soon - but first and foremost you must make room for the other person and make sure they're on their way down their "triangle".

Passive listening is not enough. We need to use tools such as mirroring and asking open ended questions to let the other party know that we are listening to them. Let the other person feel heard, help him or her figure out what is most important to them with regard to the matter at hand, and support them in formulating their own goals in accordance with the same principles that guided you - "From Now On" and "Relating to Myself".

Remember, you're not doing this only, if at all, from the goodness of your heart, but rather you are working in this way in order to achieve the goals you set for yourself in the preparatory stage. Keep your focus on the goals you have set for yourself and you will be able to look past statements that under different circumstances would have riled you.

Only when the other person has arrived at the base of his or her triangle are you "allowed" to talk about your point of view, which you outlined at the beginning of the conversation. Present your goals, and avoid falling into the traps - blame or dwelling on the past will put you both right back at the apex.

If you and the other party have indeed defined your goals in keeping with the "From Now On" and "Relating to Myself" principles, you will generally find that your points of view are not contradictory. Of course, your goals may not always be completely compatible, but it is highly probable that any differences will be a lot less significant than they seemed at the beginning of the conversation.

Stage Three - Conclusion
Any conversation, including difficult ones, much reach a conclusion, summary, action item, follow up - something! A difficult conversation is meant to convey a message that relates in some way to executing an assignment. Bring the conversation to a close having summarized what you both agreed upon, explicitly stating any tasks each of you may have (try to make sure that there is reciprocity, so that if one of you has an assignment the other does as well), and set a date for reevaluating the points you discussed. Make sure to "wrap things up".

One last, self-evident thought: This article presents the handling of difficult conversations in a systematic - technical manner. Technique should not come at the expense of humanity. Remember that there is a human being facing you who is going through a difficult time. Be kind. Remember the quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel". You create good feelings with empathy, caring (different than responsibility), listening and showing interest - make sure to keep these words in mind during your difficult conversation.

Delivering Difficult News
There are conversations, especially common in times of crisis like the one the Israeli economy may face/be facing, where you have no complaints towards the other party, and they are in fact doing well, except… that you have to deliver a difficult message, such as that they are fired, they won't get a raise or their pay has been cut, their favorite project has been frozen/shut down, that you like them but….etc.

In this case, the stages remain the same, but the balance shifts. When delivering difficult messages, the preparatory stage consists of taking a deep breath and memorizing the rule "Existent = Legitimate". The second stage is where most of the conversation takes place. The operative word here is containing. Say what you need to say honestly, and let the other person speak. In this type of conversation, assuming the other party is open to sharing, they will be doing most of the talking. The purpose of the conversation, beyond getting your message across, is to allow the recipient to process the news. So be empathic and attentive - give them the time and space to absorb the information.

The third stage is also important when delivering difficult news. In emotionally charged situations, some kind of closure is very important. The conclusion can consist of an empathic sentence about the news, offering to discuss it again in a few days so that the other party feels cared about, or anything else that fits in with the other party's reaction and the context of the conversation.

Human Resources and "Difficult Conversations"
The human resources department plays an important role when it comes to difficult conversations within an organization in times of crisis. First of all, the HR department is entrusted with managing all of the employees, so that their initial task is to inform the management of the importance of the situation and urge them to take action. Moreover, as they have access to the body of information, they are responsible for circulating the information throughout the organization and walking management through the matter at hand.

Difficult conversations in times of crisis take place through two main channels: the organizational channel, and the private channel - between managers and employees.

The organizational channel is the channel through which management passes on organizational messages to the body of employees. When dealing with a rise in uncertainty and anxiety within an organization, the first step is sending out clear messages. A clear message is calming, not only because without clear information the void of uncertainty would fill up with conjecture, but because it lets the employees know that "somebody's home" - every flock needs a shepherd, especially when entering uncertain territory. Difficult conversations through this channel are comprised of the same stages as those through the private channel and are no less important.

The private channel, which I have focused on in this article, is one where interpersonal messages are relayed. Human resources' role here includes working one-on-one with the managers on "hatting", giving them the tools to handle difficult conversations, and providing ongoing guidance to make sure the conversations take place and to assist with any problems that arise.
Good communications with the employees during a crisis is an important source of up to date, authentic information, and aids in lowering the levels of personal and organizational anxiety, while spurring those in key roles to action.

In Summary
A change of attitude toward the approaching crisis and especially toward difficult conversations and seeing them as an opportunity for growth will encourage organizations - and human resources departments may be at the forefront of this change - to clarify their outlook on the matter.

The best way to handle crisis is by taking initiative and being creative, but often organizations get consumed by anxiety, which dampens these very qualities. A sober outlook which acknowledges the necessity of initiating difficult conversations and putting that into action both on an organizational and personal level is important if the organization is to survive the recession. Organizations that know how to deal responsibly with the challenges they face during this time will not only survive it more successfully, but emerge even stronger. Communication within an organization, especially during difficult times, gives rise to a sense of community, finding creative solutions and improving the organization's "bottom line". Awareness, and a simple, structured body of information, are important elements in achieving these objectives.

Author's Bio: 

With academic background in Economics, Accountancy, Law and Philosophy Asaf Shani is a highly experienced facilitator - consultant - trainer on confrontational situations. A Confrontational situation is a situation in which two entities (groups or individuals), holding opposing viewpoints, meet. Every conflict, negotiation, sales encounter, a difficult conversation etc, falls into this category.

Asaf started his way in the M&A division of Delloite & Touche, then in the beginning of 2001 he established Shani Mediation Inc. which specializes in consulting and training corporations and individuals.

He developed unique models like the I Win model and Unravel the conflict methodology that were successfully implemented in giant firms like IBM, Microsoft, Intel, HP, Coca-Cola, Nokia, Orange, along with government agencies, hospitals and many SMB organizations.

His hobbies include Kung-Fu, horse riding, swimming and jogging.