We’ve all been in the place where we’ve had to have one of those….difficult conversations. The ones that we dread having, the ones we would do anything to avoid. The problem is that we can’t get out of it. Possible situations of someone in your organization is not doing their job, missed deadlines, dishonesty and other issues always make for the need to have one of those dreaded talks. Oh sure, we can avoid them but the problems will only fester, become worse and we will end up regretting we didn’t get it together and have that conversation we’ve been putting off.
While having such a conversation may never be pleasant or easy, there are a number of things we can do to keep them from going south.
1. Have a well thought out, clear outcome in mind
Think about what you want to come out of the conversation. Is it better performance from a staff person, more accountability, a better relationship with that person? Visualize what the ideal outcome would be and work your way back from there. What do you need to do to move the conversation in that direction?
2. Wait until your emotions have settled down, you feel centered and in complete control of yourself.
If you need to practice, have a mock conversation with someone you trust, a family member, colleague or friend. Have them give you some negative feedback to determine if you are being triggered.
3. Stick to the data
When speaking only talk about the facts of the situation. Talk about what actually happened, the effects of that and the situation it resulted from. For example, because of missing the deadline, the order was lost and the company is in danger of losing a customer. Don’t make any judgements about why the person missed the deadline. Leave that part for them to tell you. If there is anything about the situation that you may be responsible for own up to it. If you are not sure if it is something that you did ask the other person. Seeing that you are ready and willing to accept that you may have played a role in the problem will make it easier for the other party to accept some responsibility.
4. Actively listen when they tell their story
This part is the most difficult as we all have preconceived notions and judgements about people and why they act as they do. Pretend that you will be tested on how well you can repeat what they said and fight the urge to jump in and contradict them. Pay close attention not only to the words, but the tone of voice and body language.
5. Repeat back what you heard and ask questions to clarify what you didn’t understand
For any positive progress to be made in coming to a solution, the person you are speaking to must feel heard. That doesn’t mean that you agree with him/her, or accept what they say. It only means that you actually listened to them and heard them. A clear statement would be, "What I heard you say was...... is that accurate?
6. Ask for what you need to happen and his/her opinion on what can be done to change the situation.
Ask for the changes that you would like to see that would keep the situation from happening in the future. Then ask the other person what they think needs to change. There is no guarantee that the other person will be open, non-defensive, willing to share and be accountable. However, if the conversation has gone well, the chances of them becoming more open and honest will increase substantially.
7. Do some brainstorming and problem solving
Do some brainstorming around solutions, not only for the problem you are dealing with, but for future scenarios that are likely to occur. Try to come up with a means to resolve disputes that you both agree on. Look for sincere comments that the other said, or actions they committed to, in order to move the situation towards a resolution and let them know that you appreciate them for doing so.
Wrapping it all up
A successful outcome depends upon breaking through defensiveness and having an honest and open conversation. If the conversation starts to break down, if either of you start to become highly emotional, it is better to take a break and start over. Continuing on after emotions have boiled over will only make the situation worse, entrench positons and decrease the chances of having a desirable outcome. There is no guarantee of having the outcome that you are looking for. We cannot control the thinking of actions of another and if we have followed our plan and done our best we can at the very least walk away feeling that we gave the process our best chance of success.
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Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, speaker and internationally published author of THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success, published by AMACOM of New York. He writes a monthly column for HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE You can follow him on Twitter @Theeiguy or on