How To Prepare For A Difficult Conversation

It is human nature to avoid conflict, at least for the vast majority of us!

We put off that difficult, awkward, challenging and potentially very uncomfortable event until, well, we just rush in there and either get it wrong or it goes not the way we wanted it to go.

We get wrapped up in all the reasons why we should avoid the issue, think of the positives that we have clung onto for a long time when the reality of the situation is that we have to do something and do it properly. We dread the event and worry about the fall-out from it.

Not easy.

Like everything in life, the key to success lies in the planning. The pre-event planning is infinitely more important than the task you are seeking to avoid!

Here are the four things you must do to prepare. The guarantee of success lies in how well you do them and the degree to which you really think things through before you get in there!

Check out exactly what your motives are and if they are right. Under conditions of stress and threat, our motives become short-term and selfish and we lose that objectivity of the situation. Here we deliberately avoid conflict because it is a painful process. What is the real problem/issue here and what am I really looking for? By asking yourself this you can change your motives and approach you can consider that you really want, what do you want for the other party, what do you want for any ongoing relationship and what do you want from this for any stakeholders involved?

Assess your emotions and get some balance into them. Unhelpful emotions are another second barrier to a productive conversation. We often come in angry, scared, hurt, or defensive. Surprisingly, our emotions have less to do with what the other person is doing, and more to do with the story we tell ourselves about what they are doing. We will be thinking all about victim (you, the team, the organisation) and villain (them, the wrong-doers, those who have let the side down) which is very unhelpful.

Gather facts and only facts! There will be opposing views in the conversation so you need to be clear about the facts at the heart of the issue. The opposite views will be aired but the only reliable content of the conversation are stone cold facts.

Be curious about what is going on. Listen very carefully and probe what is being said and try to pick up subtle messages and content from the conversation. Often these small details are very important and will give you an insight that you may not have planned for.

Having difficult and stressful conversations are part of the management role and it is perfectly normal to feel apprehensive about this. The critical success factor in these situations rests with your preparation and not what you say once the conversation starts flowing.

Good Luck!

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