(When the heat is on.) Don't Speak! Do this instead.
Have you ever found yourself embroiled in a conversation you simply were not ready to have? If so, the details of the conversation may have surprised you, left you physically shaking and emotionally shaken to your core. You may have found yourself on the defensive, trying to protect your dignity and reputation.
Perhaps a law firm partner, a client or even your spouse wanted to confront you about something bothering them. They were ready to lay bare all of the information they had gathered to present to you, opening with the dreaded . . . "we need to talk."
Most people feel obligated to agree to engage in the conversation, prepared or not. But know this, you are never obliged to have a conversation you are not ready to have.
In the future, the next time you hear the words, "we need to talk," immediately PAUSE. DON'T SPEAK. Your gut reaction may be to say 'OK' and then to ask them what they want to discuss. Don't.
Firstly, check-in and ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I ready to have a 'we need to talk' kind of conversation right now?
- Do I have the mental and emotional energy to handle what is coming with dignity and grace?
- Am I tired, hungry or overwhelmed about some other pressing issues in my life that this person knows nothing about?
- Do I have the bandwidth to ask well thought-out clarifying questions to ensure the conversation doesn't become circular and end in confusion and frustration?
If your answer to any of those questions is no. Don't speak! As in don't engage in that conversation then.
Do this instead.
Let the other person know this really is not a good time for you to speak with them. Tell them you would like to give them your full attention so you can a productive conversation. Then set a time to speak that is best for you. If you are best in the morning, schedule it then.
Never have what could be a difficult conversation on someone else's timetable.
To the best of your ability, set a time when you have been able to get some rest and are in the best mindset for a tough talk. (I would even suggest doing so over a meal. Food is bonding, soothing and puts most people at ease. The other person might be hungry (and not know it) and eating together can make a difficult conversation less intense.
If the person insists on having the conversation at that time, limit your dialogue.
If you are told something surprising, shocking or insulting and are angered by what you are hearing, hold it. Again, DON'T SPEAK. PAUSE.
"Never have what could be a difficult conversation on someone else's timetable."
Let them know you have heard what they said. Explain that you are processing the information and cannot effectively respond to their points until you have had some time to gather your thoughts. Then, let them know you will get back to them with your thoughts on the matter at a specific time - i.e., by the end of the day or the end of the week, whatever works best for you and your timetable.
You may even want to respond to their concerns in writing. There is nothing that says you can't. If writing things out helps you have better clarity, do it. You can respond in writing letting them know you will follow up in person. You can respond in any way you see fit.
Whether you respond verbally or in writing, always respond on your own timetable, not that of the other person. Even if you only need 5 minutes to take a breath and compose yourself, give yourself that 5 minutes.
I realize this is not an easy thing to do.
As a lawyer, there are certain expectations most people have of you, including that you will have immediate answers to their questions or concerns. As a result, you may have developed a pattern of immediately responding to everything.
In the future though, never have a conversation you are not ready for.