In the previous post I looked at the skills you need in order to be able to have effective difficult conversations. Now I want to take you through the steps you can follow when preparing to have that difficult conversation.
When you know that you must have a difficult conversion – whether you’re on the receiving end or you’re the person who is arranging the conversation – there are some things you can do to make it easier.
- Know Your Purpose – Why do you want to have this difficult conversation to start with? What are you hoping will result from it? Be sure to know your goals and objectives in advance of even mentioning the talk to the other person or people involved.
- Don’t Make Assumptions – Whether you’re on the receiving end or not, do not make assumptions about how the other person is going to react. It’s okay to go over different scenarios in your head so that you know how you might deal with them effectively, but do not assume that you’re correct about them. You have no idea what their real thoughts or intentions are until they share them.
- Know Yourself – If you know that you’re an emotional person, do things to help prepare yourself for the discussion such as avoiding caffeine, taking anti-anxiety medications if you normally use it, meditating, or taking a run or walk in advance of the meeting.
- Is Your Opponent / Partner Aware There Is a Problem? – Before approaching the person, ask yourself if they are aware that there is a problem. Often something that seems obvious to us is not even on the radar for the other person. If they’re going to be blindsided, acknowledge that your lack of communication is the cause.
- What Are Your Fears? – Before going into this difficult conversation, what do you fear about the potential discussion and its outcome? Often these fears are unfounded, but naming the fears can help you figure out how you’ll talk to the person.
- What Part Is Your Responsibility? – If you can determine from your perspective what your responsibility is in the situation, you need to address that up front when you enter the discussion. That will calm their fears and make them realize right away that this is not a blame game discussion.
- Read Self-Help Books – There are numerous self-help books on this topic. One that we like are Harvard Business Review on Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and the guides that go with it. Another is Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, et al.
- Watch Videos – This is a great video from Ted Talks headlining Celeste Headlee, a writer and radio host, where she talks about ten ways to have better conversations. This can work for many types of difficult conversations.
- Seek Advice – If you’re unsure, you can also seek out advice from someone like a counselor or a mediator. Mediators’ sole focus is on helping people get through difficult conversations and negotiations. Find one that is well versed in the area you need help with.
- Practice – One of the biggest things you can do to get better at having difficult conversations is to practice. Keep having the conversations, acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them, so that you can do better each time.
Preparing for a difficult conversation is just as important as having the conversation. If you are ready and have taught yourself about communication, conflict resolution, and have a good understanding of human nature and how to get to solutions, you’ll end up doing great.