Interpersonal Conflict, a course I first designed back in 1999 and have taught since, just wrapped up for the term. On the last class day, my graduate conflict management students had one assignment: A brief presentation on a difficult conversation, how it went, and what they learned.
Yes, that’s right, I required my students to have a difficult conversation they had been avoiding, putting what I taught them to a very real and practical test, and inviting these future mediators to step up to their own difficult conversations in ways they’ll ask their clients to.
Before their difficult conversations, my students told me they worried about the kinds of things you might expect: What will the other person think? How will they judge me? Will I feel bad when I’m done? Will I be rejected? Will I cause them undue pain by opening something back up? Will I act badly and regret that later?
In other words, they catastrophized, letting their worries run away with them. We all do that a bit, don’t we?
Their presentations were moving and funny and so very smart. Several commented that the experience had been life-changing. I asked them what they would tell others who haven’t yet felt ready to step up their own difficult conversation. Here’s what they want you to know:
- “It’s completely worth the risk and the temporary messiness.”
- “You get so much more out of it than you thought you would – it enriches your life.”
- “The preparation, the conversation you have with yourself beforehand, is as valuable – maybe more so – than the conversation itself.”
- “It’s never too late.”