Chances are you can’t go through life without having any difficult conversations. Conversations you’d rather not have. Difficult conversations are by nature not nice, are they worse for introverts? 66% of people feel stressed or anxious if they know a difficult conversation is coming up (CMI)
Why are these conversations “difficult”.
There are many examples of conversations that could be “difficult”; perhaps addressing poor performance, unacceptable behaviour, bullying, giving developmental feedback to staff, saying no to team members, handling a grievance or disciplinary process, or countless other reasons.
Other than the fact that we are saying things to colleagues we think they may not like, there’s the emotions. The intensity and complexity of emotions that conversations like this can arouse, both for you as manager and the person you’re speaking to.
The emotions generally arise from fear:
- Am I good enough?
- Can I handle their reaction?
- Will I be supported by peers, HR or my boss?
- Losing friends
That’s a lot of raw emotion to handle, both yours and theirs.
Are difficult conversations worse for introverts?
Difficult conversations and especially conflicts are draining for most people. That’s why people tend not to like them!
There are two things about introverts that can make the problem worse.
- Internal processing. Introverts process thoughts internally before (and possibly after) talking. We “think to talk” (stereotypical extroverts “talk to think”). So, introverts are likely to think through the difficult conversation more than many other people. Continual replaying of something unpleasant isn’t good!
- Energy levels. Typically, introverts lose energy by being with people, it’s worse in large groups and with people they don’t know well. So, introverts tend to be conscious of managing their energy levels, consciously or subconsciously avoiding things that drain energy. Difficult conversations, or conflict, are emotionally draining for most people – perhaps even more so for an introvert who focuses on not losing their energy.
Should you avoid difficult conversations?
No, don’t avoid difficult conversations, that normally makes things worse in the future.
You might be able to defuse them early on (but that is normally a difficult conversation). Sometimes you might be able to avoid things that create the problem. But you’re likely to have them, here are some tips for handling difficult conversations.
Tips for handling difficult conversations.
- Reframe: Applying the label “difficult” to the conversation may make things worse. Focus on constructive outcomes.
- What is the issue? Frame the discussion on it and keep it on that issue. Most importantly the discussion it about the behaviour (or whatever the issue is), not the person.
- Language: Stick to plain English that you both understand, rather than complicated euphemisms to try and skirt around the issue.
- Facts: Stick to facts and specific examples. Prepare them first and check them out!
- Listen: Hear their point of view, show that you’ve heard them and that you care about how they see things.
- Silence: If there’s a gap in the conversation, don’t rush to fill it. As an introvert you’re probably happy with gaps, allow the other person time to respond.
- Enquiring: Adopt and enquiring mindset. You want to find out their perspective, there may be things for both of you to learn.
- Anger: You may get an angry response, “why me”, “it’s unfair”, “you are xxx”, etc. That’s a normal response to bad news, be ready for it and don’t react being argumentative or going into combat mode.
Note for introverts and difficult conversations
Avoidance seems easy, but rarely works. You’re either bottling things up and giving in, or the situation is continuing to fester while you avoid it.
Prepare, introverts are good at that, but don’t over prepare. Get the facts, consider how you’ll approach it, their responses and your responses. But don’t keep playing it out and draining your energy, or you’ll make it worse!
Use you introvert superpowers: You’re good at listening, questioning, seeing different views and probably at remaining dispassionate. These are useful skills when dealing with difficult conversations, use them rather than caving in.