Caught Up in Emotions

WE THINK difficult conversations are a power problem because, looked at one way, they are. But it’s misleading to look at them as power problems alone, although many of us see them that way because, bad as that view is, to see them as emotional problems is worse. For most people in a difficult conversation, their worst nightmare is personality intertwined with issues. And when people think “personality,” they mean bad behavior on the counterpart’s side.

But that’s not all. At the same time that we’re dealing with their bad behavior, difficult conversations stir up crucially disturbing emotions on our own side—particularly fear, anger, and embarrassment.

Fear is the limiting emotion in difficult conversations. ...

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