She Leads Wrap Up: Tips and Tricks for Navigating Difficult Conversations

28 September 2020

Whether you’re preparing for an upcoming job interview, negotiating a new salary, or giving feedback to a fellow team member, navigating difficult conversations is no easy feat. 

On Tuesday 22 September, YWCA Canberra hosted our first online She Leads Workshop on Tips and Tricks for Navigating Difficult Conversations facilitated by Vanessa Vanderhoek. The evening’s objective was to help participants carry out difficult conversations and better understand their leadership goals.   

To begin the workshop, Vanessa lead a reflection activity, where she  encouraged  the group to think about what they consider a difficult conversation. The most common types of difficult conversation that were raised involved giving and receiving feedback or interviewing for a new job. Participants noted that difficult conversations raised feelings of discomfort and unease. 

“A difficult conversation for me is when I experience a visceral reaction and find it hard to talk or think”, shared one participant. 

“For me, there are certain situations that I know are going to be difficult simply because the things I say might create anxiety in others”, shared another participant. 

This was then followed by the prompt, “recount a time when you had a successful difficult conversation and share why you responded well in that situation”. This prompt delivered a very different set of answers, as participants began to share more positive feelings such as calm, preparedness, and confidence. 

Taking this opportunity to reflect on these feelings helped highlight the goals and outcomes of the workshop, and to realign our focus on ways to better address future conversations. 

To do this, Vanessa introduced us to the three main communication styles: passive, assertive, and aggressive. 

Vanessa drew on her own experience as working as a young manager to put this into perspective.  Her journey began as a passive communicator, but she worked to become what she identified as an assertive communicator. She described the conflict she often felt when giving people feedback in concern of hurting their feelings.   

She was able to overcome this conflict and progress in her communications journey through the ‘Situation, Behaviour and Impact’ model (SBI). This helpful tool allows people to envision difficult situations, examine their behaviours, and assess the impacts that follow.   

An example Vanessa provided was the situation of sitting in a team meeting. How are you behaving? Are you quiet, or are you actively participating? How does this behaviour affect your team and how will it affect how they perceive you?   

This discussion emphasised the importance of being assertive, not only your own professional development, but also for the development of others. 

“When it comes to being assertive, it’s important that we respect ourselves and respect others. They have a right to know and deserve the feedback” Vanessa shared.  

To be assertive, however, is often easier said than done. As Vanessa explained, being assertive is a skill that can be developed. By examining one’s own self-defeating beliefs, skill deficits, anxiety and stress, situational influences, and cultural and generational influences, people can become assertive. 

“Developing assertiveness is like building your muscles. Look at push-ups for instance. The first time you do them, you can probably only three, but as you keep practising, you can eventually work your way up to fifty”.   

Towards the end of the Workshop, Vanessa shifted the focus to notions that help people improve difficult conversations. These notions included: thoughtful planning and research, practice, dropping your perfectionisms, language, timing, and being flexible and adaptable. 

One tool Vanessa shared that she found useful was recording conversations to herself. Giving herself the time to rehearse what she was going to say gave her a sense of clarity.  In the day and age of video calls and phone conversations, Vanessa emphasised the importance of words and tone. Being able to communicate clearly and calmly was a strong indicator of someone with influence.   

To wrap up the event, Vanessa left the group with one final question, “what were your ah-ha moments in this session? 

This provided time to reflect on the key takeaways  learnt from the workshop. This pivotal question allowed the group to reengage with the tools and skills they could use to help  navigate future difficult conversations. 

“Learning to be more assertive,” shared one participant. 

“Working on the win-win,” shared another. 

“Listening more empathetically.” 

At YWCA Canberra, we create safe spaces that ensure women’s leadership experiences provide opportunities for self-reflection and understanding of the self as a leader.  Through workshops like Vanesssa’s, we provide women with the tools needed to confidently begin and strengthen their leadership journeys. 

Want more from our She Leads workshops? Join us this October as we present our She Leads workshop on Building Confidence in Public Speaking with Catherine McGrath 

This workshop will build your confidence and help you to understand why speaking can make you anxious and how nerves can be counteracted.  

For more information and to register, please visit our event page here.  

To receive updates on future She Leads opportunities and events, subscribe to the YWCA Canberra Newsletter and the She Leads Newsletter.  

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