The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

RLF Recap: "The Art of Difficult Conversations"

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Dr. Roshini Pinto-Powell, a professor at Geisel Medical School and physician, joined the Fellows for their session during Week Six of the Fall term. The focus of the session was learning how to have difficult conversations and was heavily guided by the assigned summer readings for the Fellows. The assigned books were Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most and Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. To start the discussion of difficult conversations, Roshini offered insight into how learning how to have difficult conversations has helped her in her career as a physician, in developing stronger bedside manners. The Fellows were asked to consider any recent difficult conversations they have had and reflect on why the conversation was difficult.

To practice having effective and productive difficult conversations, the Fellows broke into small groups to do role-playing. After working through the scenarios, the Fellows offered reflections on the exercise. Some Fellows noted that the hardest part of the exercise was overcoming preconceived notions about one another, as well as addressing the feelings of those involved in the conversation. These revelations will help the Fellows in their personal and professional relationships, and especially in their capacities as leaders. As Roshini said, a part of overcoming preconceived notions is being aware of your “ladder of inference,” or your implicit biases. Productively discussing feelings requires gentle honesty grounded in your personal experience through “I” statements.

Roshini also introduced the concept of group stages of development, which provides a framework for how groups transition from a collection of strangers to a supportive team of people with shared goals. As the Fellows continue to bond with their cohort virtually, understanding the ideal progression of group development can offer insight into what to expect and how to overcome potential issues.

Previous sessions of RLF have focused on self-awareness and personal reflection, which are critical components to having productive difficult conversations according to Roshini. Before you can share your feelings with someone else in a tactful manner, you must first learn how to dissect your feelings and what is inspiring those emotions. Roshini’s insights into difficult conversations offered a great next step for the Fellows to understand how skills of self-awareness can directly impact their ability to develop strong interpersonal skills.

-Written by Maria Smith-Lopez, Class of 2021 Rockefeller Leadership Fellow and Student Program Assistant

As Rockefeller Leadership Fellows, seniors gain a better understanding of the qualities and responsibilities expected of leaders. As Fellows take part in the workshops, discussions, and team-building exercises, they examine their skills, qualities, and attributes as leaders and analyze how these influence teamwork and achieving goals. 

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