Navigating Difficult Conversations
Adventure Nannies guide to resolving conflicts and miscommunication between nannies and families.
We have all faced difficult conversations in our personal and private lives. We have all also faced situations where it was easier to not have a conversation than face the challenging confrontation ahead. However difficult, the best thing to do is to tackle the conversation in a way that will create better outcomes for all parties.
Here are some steps to ensure your conversation has the best possible outcome:
Identify issues and write them down.
Don’t script your intro or discussion, but jot down some notes about what is really bothering you. If you write down issues vaguely like “you’re always late” or “you never follow the schedule”, the other party will immediately jump on the defensive with examples of every time your statement was false. Instead write down how it makes you feel and how it affects you or the nanny-family relationship.
Example: Your nanny family/nanny is regularly 20 minutes late. Does it bother you because you feel your time is not valued? Because your other commitments are being compromised? Be as specific as you can.
Ask yourself several questions:
- What is the purpose of this conversation? What do you hope to accomplish? What is your ideal outcome? If your answers are punitive, consider re-evaluating. The conversation is more likely to be a success if you are seeking to support and improve.
- What assumptions are you making about the other person? Challenge these assumptions.
- Are you being triggered by the situation? Is there a backstory or something that is causing you to make the situation seem more dire or stressful than necessary based on past experiences and fear?
- How might you be contributing to the problem? This will help with empathy and approaching the issue as a team.
Change your mindset.
If you are faced with a “difficult conversation” you have already created the mindset it will be difficult making you more nervous and potentially causing you to dig your heels into a position. Take a step back and re-frame the conversation in your mind as an exciting opportunity for you to work together as a team to solve a problem and improve your working relationship. So often we need to be reminded that perspective is everything.
Example: As you get angry over their tardiness you start thinking “she is disrespectful, she doesn’t care about her job like I do.”
Stepping back to an open helpful mindset is re-framing to the original problem “something must be in her way preventing her from being on time.”
Set a Time and Agree to Talk in Person.
Never start these conversations any way other than face to face. There is too much room for misinterpretation, defensiveness or avoidance. You may think an email list of concerns sounds like a good idea, but tone is everything when trying to create a feeling of teamwork rather than blame.
Take regular pauses and focused breath to focus and ensure that your emotions are not ruling your speech or preventing you from listening to what the other person has to say. Emotional statements often come out more harsh or final than intended and more often than not, take the conversation in a defensive, positional direction.
If breathing isn’t doing the trick and you feel you or the other person is loosing their cool, don’t be afraid to take a break. 10 minutes or even two days may give all parties involved the space they need to approach the conversation in the best way possible. Take a drink of water, a short walk, or if you are looking at solutions, a break to do some research.
Don’t prepare your counter argument or get defensive while the other person is talking. Truly listen to what the other person is saying and where they are coming from so you can understand their needs as equal barriers to your joint success. If you catch yourself thinking “that’s not true”, or wanting to roll your eyes, check your thoughts and just listen. If you need more information, ask questions in an open, honest manner. Your goal should be to learn more about the other person’s perspective. Wait until they are finished before sharing your perspective.
Example: “I didn’t change the schedule so where is the stress coming from?” makes the other person feel you are not listening or trying to understand. “You said it adds stress to your day trying to get to the house by a certain time, can you elaborate on that?” asks for information about the stress and shows a desire to understand.
Make sure they know you are listening and you heard them. No qualifiers (but, however…) or problem solving, just hearing what they have to say. Often in these situation we, or those we are talking with, repeat themselves over and over. This is a sign that we do not feel heard or understood. This often happens when jumping to solutions or demanding solutions before providing Acknowledgement.
Example: Don’t say “I hear you want me to be on time but I have no control over traffic.”; do say, “I see that my being late has made you feel unappreciated.”
Recap all the issues brought up on both sides and brainstorm solutions that address them. Make it fun – no solution is stupid! Work from there to find a set of measurable solutions that address all the issues. It is important they are measurable so you can check in at regular intervals to see if they are working.
Example: “try to be on time more often” is not measurable. Keeping a log of hours and reasons for tardiness and then agreeing to reduce changes to the schedule/ tardiness by a certain percent over a set period of time is measurable and provides documentation to reference.
Schedule regular check-ins to make sure the solutions are working, discuss possible adjustments and generally see how the other person is doing. Creating the space for these conversations means there is no build up or dread assuming any “talk” is negative. The space is reliably there, at regular time increments, for this exact purpose. Even if everything is going well, make sure to talk to strengthen your relationship and trust. (See the section on “Nanny-Family Communication).
Another reason to follow up is maybe the issue was not solved in one conversation, or some personalities involved require time to think on their own before being ready to fully process and problem solve. It is ok not to fix everything in one hour-long talk. Don’t hold yourself to an arbitrary expectation of solving a problem in a first go, especially if communication has been spotty beforehand.
- Don’t agree to meet in the middle. You may ask “Why can’t we just compromise?” While immediately setting a compromise may alleviate some of the tension or awkwardness of your difficult conversation, it sets you up to both agree to partial solutions to your individual problems rather than solving them, and creates resentment that you are doing extra and not getting what you need in return. Instead, spend more time brainstorming solutions that satisfy both of your needs. This should be easy if you have identified the problem as an interest rather than a position. For instance:
- “When you’re late I don’t feel respected” describes the interest of feeling your time is respected. Framing it this way creates space for discussion on improvement, perhaps communicating differently when a meeting has kept you late at work, or having the nanny stay a half hour later certain nights of the week.
- “You CAN’T be late” states a position but does not address why they are late or the issues being late causes. Instead, it makes the other party feel as though the demand is final while they may also not be able to meet it.
- Don’t assume they will have a solution to the problem, or will be able to come up with one on their own.
This puts the pressure on them to have the solution and they may quickly revert to a mantra of “I don’t know” and eventually “I can’t” or worse, “I’ll just fix it” which is not a real solution. Instead, go back to joint problem solving by reviewing your issues list to make sure it is clear and honest, and throwing out ideas together, as a team.
This guide was made by our very own Lieschen Gargano, who holds a master’s degree in Peace in Conflict Resolution from the University of Denver. If you have specific questions regarding a difficult conversation, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org