Dueling at Dawn: Having Difficult Conversations Successfully!

Do you put off dueling at dawn? Me too! Are you putting off a conversation you need to have with an employee, your manager or a teammate? Do you hate hurting others’ feelings? Are you tired of the same old performance issues occurring over and over? Having a difficult conversation doesn’t really need to be difficult. What can make it more difficult is thinking that it will have an unexpected, emotional outcome or possibly make it worse. So, here are four simple steps for you to successfully have those difficult conversations.

Four Simple Steps:

Firstly, practice, practice, practice! Practice the conversation with a friend until what is said and how it is said comes across effectively. A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you are and what you say. How you are (centered, supportive, curious and problem-solving) will greatly influence what you say (the actual language) and how you say it (emotion, tone and body language). Practice the conversation with a friend until what is said and how it is said comes across effectively.

Step #1: Inquiry – Begin the conversation with an attitude of inquiry. Don’t bring in any assumptions. Just ask good questions. Initially, check in with the person…asking them about their family or interests. Then you can continue with specific questions around their understanding of certain situation. Let them do all the talking. Do not take anything that is said personally. Don’t interrupt. Observe their body language. Acknowledge what is being said. Learn as much as possible about the person, their point of view and specific details.

Step #2: Acknowledge – Acknowledge by showing that you’ve heard and understood the person. Paraphrase back to the person your understanding of their point of view and their possible goals and intentions. Even acknowledge your own emotions, such as being defensive or angry. For example, in an argument with a teammate, I said: “I notice I’m becoming defensive, and I think it’s because you were becoming emotional. I just want to stay focused on this topic. I’m not trying to persuade you in either direction.” The acknowledgment helped both of us to re-group. You may state “this sounds really important to you,” which doesn’t mean I’m going agree with your decision.

Step #3: Support – When it seems like the other person has expressed all their information and energy on the topic, it’s now your turn. To make sure their finished ask, “do you have anything more to add.” What can you see from your perspective that they’ve missed? Help clarify your position without minimizing theirs. For example: “From what I’ve heard, I can see how you came to the conclusion that I’m not an effective project manager.” When I’m discussing issues with a project team, I’m thinking about its long-term success. I don’t mean to be a critic, though perhaps I sound like one. Perhaps we can have a conversation around how to provide feedback to each other, so that we can both meet our needs?

Step #4: Build Solutions – Now you’re ready to begin problem solving and building solutions. Brainstorming and continued inquiry are useful here. Build on potential solutions that both of you find mutually agreeable. Seeking the other’s perspective will help them engage more effectively. If the conversation becomes emotional or confrontive, go back to inquiry. If you’ve done well with steps 1- 3, then building solutions should go smoothly.

Now, go find your first guinea pig!

Regards,

Greg Sievers

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