Before you go into that tense meeting, before you respond to that contentious email, before you return that snarky phone message, ask yourself:
“Am I going into this with the intention of raking the coals?”
Raking the coals (not to be confused with hauling someone over the coals) is what we do when we want to bring the fire to its most intense heat. It can also be a way to bring a coal that has almost burned out back from the dead. In either event, the question above is very relevant and important to ask.
When entering into any communication that involves conflict, you have essentially two choices. You can stir the fire or you can let it burn out. Granted, some people are so determined to have the conflict that it seems like they are willing to keep it going on their own, but that is a lot harder for them to do if you don’t give them fuel.
Why would we rake the coals?
I believe that this comes down to ego and hurt feelings. Someone sends us an email that blames us completely for a mistake, which we might feel is unfair, so we want them to take it back. If we focus on wanting them to take it back, and begin the conversation with the focus on what was said, then we will only be dealing with the conflict and not with the solution. If you want to improve your leadership communication skills then you will need to be mindful of your emotional state of mind, recognize your wounded ego and set a new goal for the conversation.
The coals aren’t even the point.
The point is whatever the big picture is for you and this person. It is a rare moment in both business and personal life that going over past wounds and mistakes is a good way to resolve differences or come to a mutual place of trust and understanding.
Have a plan.
Before entering into that meeting (phone call, email, text), identify if you have any negative feelings about the person, which can lead to the impulse to correct or bring up hurt feelings. Decide what you want to accomplish from this talk. If you just want a fight, then have at it. If you are looking for a resolution and a better relationship, then make the choice to leave the coals alone.
Challenging conversations will always be somewhat difficult. There is no need to inflame them.