Have you ever had a conversation that made you feel anxious, frustrated, or angry? Maybe it was with your boss, your spouse, your friend, or even a stranger. You wanted to express yourself, but you didn’t know how. You wanted to understand them, but you couldn’t. You wanted to resolve the issue, but you ended up making it worse.
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Difficult conversations are common in life, and they can be challenging for anyone. But they don’t have to be. In fact, they can be opportunities for learning, growth, and connection. The secret is to understand your purpose before you engage in the conversation.
Why is purpose important?
Sometimes you don’t know if you’re going to face a difficult conversation. I’ll give you a recent example.
Just this week, I had the opportunity to sit down with the subcommittee of the Board of Directors for a nonprofit. We were going to plan out the purpose and the deliverables for a full board strategic retreat. It was only a five-hour retreat, so it should have been pretty simple to figure out what the subcommittee wanted out of those five hours. It’s not like we were planning a two or three day event, right?
I met with them with and had high expectations. I was really eager to hear their ideas and understand what they needed, so that I could design the best processes for them to have an amazing and meaningful experience at that board retreat.
We all arrived a little late because of traffic, but I was still ready to go. The executive director introduced me to the subcommittee. She let them know that I had been working with the organization for a long time and that I was going to facilitate their board meeting. I thought that was perfect. It was great to meet them all.
I wanted to honor their time, because this was not on their initial schedule for the subcommittee meeting. So I asked them how long I had to work with them to develop the purpose and deliverables for the board strategy meeting.
One individual there said, “how about, five after?”
I looked at my watch and it was seven minutes till. I realized that they were giving me 12 minutes to plan for their most important board meeting of the year.
In that moment, I was faced with a very difficult conversation. I was almost panicking. How on earth was I going to get from this group of people the purpose of the meeting, the deliverables they wanted, and the reason they were even having it? I had a two-page interrogation sheet to prepare for strategic sessions, and there was no way I could go through it in 12 minutes.
I knew what I wanted out of this session. I wanted the board to have an amazing, meaningful, and forward-moving experience, however, they defined it. But I had to draw that out of them, not impose it on them. And this takes time – way more than 12 minutes.
What I really wanted to do was to look at that person who gave me 12 minutes and put them in their place. I wanted to say, “Hey, look, man. This is a profoundly important meeting. And I’m taking this time out of my day to help you. I drove 35 minutes through traffic to get here. You’re already starting late and you’re going to give me 12 minutes of your time? How important is this meeting to you? How dare you do that to me? This is unacceptable.”
That’s what I wanted to do. But thankfully, I had the presence of mind to say to myself, “Nope. They’re giving you 12 minutes. Make the best use of these 12 minutes that you possibly can. So that they can have an amazing 12 minutes with you right now and an amazing five hours when the full board gets together later.”
So that’s what I did. My purpose was set: Have an amazing 12 minutes gathering the information that I could, so that we could put together amazing processes to get what they needed out of their full board meeting.
And what’s fascinating is that as I moved through my questions, by the time we hit 11 minutes, I said, “You know, I’ll just ask one more question, because I have one more minute.” And so I looked at the president of the board and I asked him my question.
Before he was able to answer, the individual who had said that we only had 12 minutes at the very beginning of the meeting spoke up. He said, “You know, we can spend more time on this, I realize how important it is to get this right. We can compress the other work that we have.”
And we ended up having an amazing 45-minute discussion that was rich and innovative. I think it’s going to provide them with an amazing strategy session.
And that could have gone completely differently, had my purpose been hijacked by my ego. But it wasn’t. I stayed true to who I am as a person, who I am as a facilitator, and my stand that my clients have an amazing experience no matter what.
So, standing firm in my purpose enabled me to live in my purpose. It helped me to frame my actions and my words, my facial expressions, and my attitude. It helped me to self-monitor myself.
And so what we’re going now is talk about how that works. So if you choose to, the next time you’re faced with a challenging conversation, whether it’s with family at work or with friends, you’ll have the tools and the knowledge to change the trajectory of your conversations.
So let’s dig in.
Finding your purpose before you engage in a difficult conversation can help you to stay focused, calm, and respectful. It can also help you to achieve your desired outcomes and maintain a positive relationship with the other person.
So how can you find your purpose before you engage in a difficult conversation? Here are some tips:
- Ask yourself: Why do you want to have this conversation? What do you hope to achieve from it? What are your expectations and assumptions? How do you want to feel after the conversation? How do you want the other person to feel?
These questions can help you to clarify your intentions and motivations for having the conversation. They can also help you to identify any potential barriers or challenges that might come up during the conversation, such as emotional triggers, misunderstandings, or conflicts.
- Choose a positive, realistic, and achievable purpose that aligns with your values and goals.
Your purpose should be something that you can control and influence, not something that depends on the other person’s behavior or response. For example, instead of saying “I want them to apologize” or “I want them to agree with me”, you could say “I want to express my feelings and perspective” or “I want to understand their point of view”.
Your purpose should also be something that benefits both you and the other person, not something that harms or hurts them. For example, instead of saying “I want to prove them wrong” or “I want to make them feel guilty”, you could say “I want to resolve the issue” or “I want to strengthen our relationship”.
- Avoid negative, unrealistic, or unachievable purposes that will make the conversation harder or damage the relationship.
Your purpose should not be something that is impossible or unlikely to happen, such as “I want them to change their personality” or “I want them to admit they are wrong”. These kinds of purposes will only set you up for disappointment and frustration, and may lead to more conflict and resentment.
Your purpose should also not be something that is hostile or aggressive, such as “I want to punish them” or “I want to win the argument”. These kinds of purposes will only escalate the tension and hostility, and may damage the trust and respect between you and the other person.
- Write down your purpose and keep it in mind throughout the conversation.
Writing down your purpose can help you to remember it and stay focused on it during the conversation. It can also help you to communicate it clearly and effectively to the other person, so that they know what you are trying to achieve and why.
Keeping your purpose in mind can help you to plan, conduct, and conclude the conversation successfully. It can help you to choose the right words, tone, and body language. It can help you to listen actively, empathize sincerely, and respond respectfully. It can help you to avoid distractions, interruptions, and tangents. And it can help you to summarize the main points, confirm the agreements, and express appreciation at the end of the conversation.
If you enjoyed this blog post and want to learn more about how to find your purpose before you engage in a difficult conversation, then I have a great opportunity for you.
I’m hosting a free 2-hour live stream training where I will teach you the secrets of effective communication. You will learn how to:
- Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for any challenging conversation
- Use the right words, tone, and body language to convey your message clearly and respectfully
- Listen actively, empathize sincerely, and respond appropriately to the other person
- Resolve the issue, strengthen the relationship, and create a win-win outcome
This training is perfect for anyone who wants to improve their communication skills and build better relationships with their family, friends, colleagues, or clients.
To join this free live-stream
training, all you have to do is click on the link below and register your spot.
I will show you how to find your purpose and have amazing conversations that will change your life.
I hope to see you on the livestream.