10 Apr 7 Steps to Mastering Difficult Conversation Skills
Read this blog if:
- You need to master people skills, but you prefer “things” over people.
- You lack the confidence to speak up and fear conflict.
- Your emotions sometimes get the better of you and you lose your cool.
- You have to deal with the people above.
- You work in management, HR or training and you want to get the best out of people.
In my 23 years of working with “people change”, both in private practice and in the corporate arena, people often ask me, is it really possible to achieve “lasting” change if you are inclined a different way?
In my international best-selling book Emotional Judo®: Communication Skills to Handle Difficult Conversations and Boost Emotional Intelligence, I have a chapter on “Shortcuts to Blackbelt”, where I address this issue.
This blog is a follow on from Computers versus People, a blog where I talk about peoples’ inclinations to gravitate to the trainings and skills they feel more comfortable with. That is, unless they are highly motivated to address and fix a problem they have.
So how can we get past this issue and make behavior change stick?
You may wrestle with this statement but bear with me…The only way to really get good at anything is to practice it.
Athletes do this, musicians do this, and children do it with the video games and other games they play.
However, adults often tend to think they should have instant mastery over something new. If they understand it logically or conceptually, then they “should” be able to do it. Yet, that is not the way skill is built.
Because of this, adults often stick to things they know and feel comfortable with. Perhaps they do so to avoid the embarrassment or disappointment of not being able to perform a new skill. This is especially, if the learning process will be witnessed by their peers.
Many adults who overcome their unwillingness to try something new, often want instant gratification, unfortunately. If they don’t see success instantly or quickly, they tend to give up on the new habit or skill very early. If they find it to be difficult, boring, and repetitive, or even threatening (a bit out of their depth), you’ll hear them say things like, “That just isn’t for me,” or “My brain doesn’t work like that.”
Sure, I’ll grant you that it may be easier for some people to learn certain new skills than it is for others. (The subject of Computers versus People.)
And this is where we can possibly find a way to address this problem in relation to learning many of the very important elements that make up people skills but particularly difficult conversation people skills that are found in Emotional Judo®.
Before I do that, let’s look at the four stages of learning.
Stage 1. Unconscious incompetence. This is where you don’t know what you don’t know. Perhaps you have a blind spot to a certain behavior, or no one has pointed out that certain words you use or a habit you have may cause offence.
From my experience with teaching EASE (a tool in the book to manage arguments and differences of opinion, say “no diplomatically, and negotiate), many people have commented that they did not realize that certain words could have such an adverse effect in communication. They didn’t know what they didn’t know, nor the effect it had on people; they were unconsciously incompetent at that area.
Stage 2. Conscious incompetence. At this stage, you have been told—or have come to the realization yourself—that you are not good at something or not doing something that may be beneficial. This is the area where, as mentioned before, a lot of adults either don’t try or give up after a few attempts, stating, “I’m no good at that!”
When practicing EASE, after having just been taught the structure, some people, out of habit, will still say the offending words, despite knowing they need to drop it from their communication.
Stage 3. Conscious competence. After some practice at stage two, you start to make a reasonable attempt at doing whatever the skill is, but you still have to think about it. For example, if you were learning to drive a ball in golf, you may be able to play a good shot, but each time you line up to play a shot you may need to think about your foot placement in relation to the ball, where your shoulders are, and how your hand grip is. This means you are thinking about it as you do it, so it is still not an unconscious habit. You may still miss a shot every now and then, but even professional players do this on occasion.
Again, when practicing EASE in my workshops, some participants can immediately drop the offending words or eventually it clicks after a few accidental utterances. In both cases, they have to think about pausing and deleting, even though on the outside it appears they have mastered the skill.
Stage 4. Unconscious competence. At this stage, you are adept at the skill and do not need to think about it; it happens unconsciously, smoothly, and often effortlessly, depending on the skill. Most people at this stage have done Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours (from his book the Outliers), and even then, professional athletes, musicians, and dancers still practice.
If you can drive a car, think back to the first time you got behind the wheel. At stage one, you may have looked at a competent driver and thought it was going to be easy. But you soon moved to stage two, where you probably felt and reacted awkwardly, especially if you learned on a stick-shift (manual) car. There were so many things to deal with—the instruments, pedals, and steering the car where you wanted it to go, not to mention negotiating other cars—all at the same time.
After a while, it felt as if you were handling it, and you started to control the vehicle rather than it having a mind of its own. You still had to think about when to brake to make a smooth stop rather than a jerky one, or remind yourself to use your signal before making a turn. You had progressed to stage three, simply by putting in the hours and getting used to the process.
Some people stay at this stage. They do not drive regularly enough to move to stage four and sometimes drift back to stage two. Yet, if you have driven for many years, you possibly will have experienced driving somewhere and being preoccupied with something you are thinking about. Then, upon arriving at your destination, you think, I don’t even remember getting here. You have arrived at stage four and are using a different part of your brain—almost on auto-pilot—to navigate the road.
A lot less than ten thousand hours of practice is necessary to become proficient at the EASE process.
So here are the steps that will help you get to at least stage three in the learning process. (These tips are not in the book.)
1) Pick one skill, not the whole ten in the book (EASE is the usual choice; it is the Swiss Army knife of tools.)
2) Dissect the skill set and see what you are already good at. Most people see a mountain and don’t break the skill set into smaller pieces, like a golf swing can be. They slice the ball and think I’m hopeless at golf, rather than seeing that they are holding the club well or addressing the ball well. It is rare that a person starts from a complete lack in people skills, they have learned things through their life, despite discomfort.
3) Practice the parts you are not good at.
4) Find a person who can do the skill, who is caring enough to help you and role play, to be your quasi-coach.
5) Focus on improvement and stop comparing yourself to those who have conquered it. It’s about your personal best. Compare yourself to yourself at the beginning (or your most recent ability) but keep an eye on the objective.
6) Those that have issues with emotions stopping them from speaking up or you lose your cool, there may be extra work to do. But why this approach is good, is the more rehearsed and competent you get at the skill, the more you will have it to draw upon when the emotion gets the better of you. You have an alternate path wired in your brain.
7) Practice at every opportunity you get. In fact, the trick to get good at anything is just keep doing it—provided you are doing it the right way! That’s where your quasi-coach is helpful to give you feedback.