A Mediator Explains How to Have Difficult Conversations

Adar Cohen knows how to have difficult conversations and he wants you to be able to exercise the same skill when you need it. By mediating for corporations, politicians, and families Adar has figured out the commonalities between all these different levels of disagreements. They all share the same characteristics when viewed by somebody in the situation itself: it’s hard to confront the other and it’s easy to ‘blow up’ when those involved actually have a confrontation.

It’s common for people to avoid conflict, but avoiding it tends to create more of it. Approaching an awkward, upsetting or long-avoided conversation isn’t easy, but it can be done effectively. Whether it’s a relationship within your family, at work or in your community, you can have a difficult conversation successfully without the help of a third party.

There are three potential outcomes of a difficult conversation: a full-blown solution (tempting, but unrealistic), a plan (a map for finding a solution) or an understanding (which establishes a new awareness of how the other has experienced the conflict, and lays a reliable foundation upon which a plan and solution can be sought). In attempting a difficult conversation without a mediator, I recommend first seeking an understanding.

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How to Have Better Conversations

conversation
Talking with others about certain issues can be challenging for you or the other person. You may leave such conversations feeling awkward or worse, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Social interaction and language researcher Elizabeth Stokoe, along with colleagues, looked into what we should say and how when talking with others. They have some tips to ensure that your conversations don’t go off the rails.

Do use: some (instead of any)
“Anything else I can do for you?” Sounds like a perfectly reasonable question, doesn’t it? But John Heritage and Jeffrey Robinson, conversation analysts at the University of California, Los Angeles, looked at how doctors use the words “any” and “some” in their final interactions with patients. They found that “Is there something else I can do for you today?” elicited a better response than “Is there anything else?”

“Any” tends to meet with negative responses. Think about meetings you’ve been in – what’s the usual response to “Any questions?” A barrage of engaging ideas or awkward silence? It’s too open-ended; too many possibilities abound. Of course, if you don’t want people to ask you anything, then stick to “Any questions?”

What to say Try not to use “any” if you genuinely want feedback or to open up debate. “What do you think about X?” might be a more specific way of encouraging someone to talk.

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Increase Your Happiness by Going on Vacation

Everybody loves going on vacation and here’s why: it makes for good conversations. Really. The short term gain of increased happiness from a vacation is very short indeed, just a few days. However, the benefit of a vacation can keep giving through your social life as you relive (and share) your experience.

To make your vacation really happy be sure to make the first few days the most fun and go someplace that is interesting instead of the beach.

In terms of happiness-per-dollar-spent, vacations are the right idea in general. A lot of past research has suggested that experiences in general provide more happiness than material goods. That’s partly because — excited new owners of the latest iPhone who won’t shut up notwithstanding — humans generally have more of a tendency to talk about experiences than mere stuff. “When one buys an experience, they seem to be buying themselves a story as well,” said Dr. Amit Kumar, a social psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business who studies the relationship between money and happiness. “So one way vacations continue to provide hedonic benefits even after they’ve long since passed is because they live on in the stories we tell.”

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