Every difficult conversation is motivated by fear and defensiveness – which is really just more fear. Have compassion for the lack of skill and the snakes in people’s heads. People are really, really bad at dealing with conflict. If you are reading this, you have more education than 99.9% of the population.
There is no doubt, you are a strong leader, created to succeed. But if you have to win every conversation, that makes everyone else a loser: your team members, your family, your boss…. Conflict is not win/lose, so changing your mindset about that will change what you think and then what you say. Think of conflict as a puzzle, just something else to work out. Move the pieces around till you find a solution.
Stop doing all the stuff that doesn’t sincerely help the situation: sarcasm, avoidance, yelling, asking questions that aren’t questions, withdrawal, or talking to your pep squad. Be mad or not, talk or don’t, it’s your choice. If you aren’t willing to work on the situation you aren’t allowed to be mad. Pick one. Passive aggressive behavior is beneath you.
Get a coach. You get help with everything important and this is no different. Working through conflict requires strategy and physical skill. It’s not rocket science, but there is a right way to plan a 6-sentence script. Stick to your talking points, practice out loud, refuse to be defensive, and resist the urge to elaborate.
It helps me to think of myself as the black ops of conflict. I’m laser focused on what I want to happen, and I refuse to get distracted by insults, defensive behavior, accusations, sarcasm, or lack of skill. Whatever other goals I have, I always want to preserve the relationship. Again, this changes what I think which changes what I say.
**Bonus** The sooner you deal with a conflict the easier it is. The more conflict you are willing to tackle, the less conflict you actually have. If people are willing to handle a tough challenge, and still want to be on the same team afterwards, this creates the strongest, most effective leaders.