Bringing difficult conversations to success by not being a dick.

There are some discussions I have had for years with the same people and it never leads to anything productive. I'm still annoyed by the results, they're still annoyed by my constant nagging. What exactly makes our conversations so unproductive? As the issue rises again lately, I thought a lot about it to make it work this time.

On one hand, I (of course) would like to throw my opinion in their face and simply let them know that I do not agree with their results and yet this hasn't worked for the past 5 years and won't work now. I need a different approach.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

Albert Einstein

I know that on this particular topic, I get emotional in the discussions and what I say probably (pretty sure actually) comes across as an attack. With that kind of strategy, I'm not convincing anyone. I won't reach my goal of making them change their behaviour but just stress our relationship even further. So when I know I get emotional, I can try to frame my points in a different way. This is a weakness of mine in that particular case and I knew it - which is already half the battle.

For that, I called up a few people to help me, like an agile coach, an engineering lead and a friend to ask for advice how I can approach the next conversation and make my concerns clear, without making them feel attacked, ideally convincing them of taking care of the things I struggle with. A few things popped up that I need to change:

  1. Ask a lot of questions.
    "Who does this help?", "Can you explain the reasoning behind this?". You get the information you might not think of (but they did) and it might show them perspectives they haven't thought of
  2. Don't blame
    Say "I feel like ABC" instead of "You did XYZ". It communicates how you received their actions instead of blaming them for their behaviour.
  3. Use data
    Use measurable data to back up your claims so you have the same understanding what you're discussing and what is considered "good". Simply saying "this is not good enough" is not very accurate.
  4. Prepare
    Write down your points and reformulate them to remove any degrading/attacking language. Think about their arguments, points and goals - why should they align with yours? Do this a few days or weeks before the discussion and refine them as they come to your head

This applies for any difficult conversation in some way. Of course, I don't use measurable data in a discussion about my wedding suit but you get the idea. Especially in the professional environment, this helped me a lot.

The greater point is to observe what conversations did not go as you would have liked. Think about why and what you can do about that next time. Again, we won't reach our goals by throwing our opinion in someone's face. We need to understand their objectives, their perspectives and find the common goals we can all commit to.