February: the Most Difficult Month…?

T.S. Eliot wrote that April, with its on-again-off-again promise of spring, is the cruelest month.

My theory is that February is the most difficult.

Why do I think this? Because I find February, despite— or, perhaps because— it has fewer days, the longest month of the year. This feeling was bolstered by not one, but two, clients calling this week for tips on difficult conversations.

On the off chance you, too, are in need of a primer for a difficult conversation, a few of the suggestions I offered them are below:

Let’s begin with the “dreaded but necessary” difficult conversation:

From time to time we all have to have a conversation we’d rather not have. Given these feelings we sometimes initiate this conversation in an offhand way, or at an unexpected moment.

This usually ends poorly.

What do I recommend, instead? Set the tone, but not the time, ahead of time.

What might this sound like?

“I think you and I would both benefit from an air-clearing sit down. Is there a day/time this week that works well with your schedule?”

Why does this work?

It references your intention that other person benefit from the talk, and it allows them an aspect of control over a situation that might otherwise feel out of their control.

Next, some notes for a “pounced on” difficult conversation:

This is for when someone in your life has not read my blog and pounces on you with a hideous conversation:

The first thing I recommend is to slow the situation down as much as possible. One way to do this is to take notes. So you might say, “Because this is an important conversation I am going to take notes.”

If you find yourself confused – or shocked– by something someone has said, I recommend, “May I ask you to repeat that? I want to be sure I understand.”

Should you find yourself at a loss for words, I recommend, “I need a moment to think. This is important and I want to be sure I am choosing my words carefully.”

Finally, it’s OK to ask to step away and continue the conversation later. You could do this by saying, “This is an important — and difficult — conversation and I want to be sure we have it when we are both at our best. Given that, can we plan to pick it up again at X time?”

I hope this helps! Hang in there. March is just around the corner.