Is there a difficult conversation you’re not holding?

* Coworker not pulling their weight?
* Supervisor not holding members of the team accountable?
* Irritating behavior getting on your nerves?

What stops you from saying what’s on your mind? You may know exactly what you want to say, but you don’t say it. Instead the problem festers and the associated emotions leak out. You talk to others about the problem, lose sleep, or take refuge in a cold shoulder, sarcasm, or temper tantrum. The longer you hold back, the harder it is to bring it up.

In my conflict workshops, I teach a technique called The Left Hand Column. I ask participants to think about a tough conversation they had or would like to have. They take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle from top to bottom. On the right side of the paper, they write down what they said and what the other person said. In the left column, they write what they were thinking but not saying. For example:

1) What I actually said:
“How do you think the presentation went?”
What I’m thinking but not saying:
“That was awful. How are we going to recover?”

2) What I actually said:
“This is the way the spreadsheet gets formatted.”
What I’m thinking but not saying:
“I’ve already explained this three times!”

The Left Hand Column (LHC) is an awareness tool. We own up to our thinking and then decide if and how we will bring it into the conversation. For example, I probably won’t say what’s in the LHC verbatim, but with practice and respect I can get important content into the conversation.

Going back to our original examples:

1) “How do you think the presentation went?” (Wait to hear their view -- maybe they’re not happy either.) Then ... “I’m concerned we didn’t connect with the audience. They seemed restless. Could we review our goals and explore what went well and what we would do differently next time?”

2) “Mark, tell me what you remember about how to format spreadsheets. I think we’ve gone over this, and frankly I’m surprised that this is formatted the way it is. I’m wondering what happened.”

I love the Left Hand Column and use it often. Whenever I notice I’m holding back, I ask myself: “What do I really want to say?” At first it’s rough (the LHC usually is, that’s why I don’t say it). But when I find the useful purpose behind my thinking, I can find a way to bring my thoughts to the table.

There are lots of benefits. I practice being assertive; I add to the conversation and help build a satisfying solution; I strengthen the relationship; and I sleep better!

For more information on the Left Hand Column, visit the Society for Organizational Learning. <>

And next time, instead of holding back, hold forth. Have that conversation. With a useful purpose and positive intent, you’ll do just fine.

Author's Bio: 

Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict. She provides conflict and communication training throughout North America with unique workshops based on mind/body principles from the martial art aikido, in which she holds a second degree black belt. Employing best practice communication models, Judy brings to life key concepts such as self-management under pressure and appreciation of other viewpoints. Her programs are interactive, experiential and energetic.

She has written articles on the relevance and application of the aikido metaphor for Aikido Today Magazine and The Systems Thinker and is the author of the award-winning e-newsletter, Ki Moments.