How NOT to approach a difficult conversation

When faced with the prospect of having a difficult conversation, emotions run high and we look for reasons why it is such a challenging situation. 

We get frustrated, even angry, that we have to confront someone about their behaviour or the fact that they are doing something against the rules, or not following established procedures.  Why don’t they just do what they are supposed to do??

Then we seek to answer our own question – they are not doing the ‘right thing’ because

  • They are thick
  • They are rebellious
  • They want to make things difficult
  • They are unhappy
  • (…insert your own language here….)

No wonder people want to avoid dealing with it – the other person really should know better!! Difficult conversations

People regularly ask us how they can deal with difficult situations, and often times they really want to know how to catch the other person out so that the problem disappears or ‘someone else’ deals with it, anyone but you!

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying you are at fault (of course YOU know that, right?).  But you do have a role to play.

It is common for Fran and I to have someone describe a situation that is presenting as difficult, and to hear how much at fault the other person is.  We see how easily people get caught up in their own emotions and begin to view the situation through a narrow lens or filter.  This can have the effect of shining an unfavourable light on to ‘the other person.’ 

When we lay blame at the foot of another person, it complicates an already difficult situation.  And blaming limits our options to a successful resolution.

In a previous blog, I spoke about the costs to you, your organisation and others in the workplace is we avoid having a conversation about a difficult situation.

I also spoke about our 7 Steps to having Difficult Conversations:

            Step 1 – Decide to have the conversation

            Step 2 – Consider Root Causes

I now want to provide you with some practical tips to plan the conversation you have decided to have.  Again, I recommend using the worksheet of the Alive & Kicking 7 Steps to having Difficult Conversations to take notes as you watch this week’s video.

            Step 3 – Gather Details & Plan Logistics

            Step 4 – Decide What ‘Hat’ You Will Wear

            Step 5 – Plan the Conversation Flow / Process

This is in preparation for having the actual conversation.

Next I will address Steps 6 & 7

Step 6 – Have the Conversation

Step 7 – Review the Conversation

At this point, you have decided to have the conversation and have considered what possible causes there are to the situation.  Well done!

Step 3 – Gather Details & Plan Logistics

The next step to take is to gather relevant information and plan logistics. 

Who needs to be involved in this conversation?  It is highly recommended to check with your HR or Talent Management Team and ensure you are adhering to workplace policies and any statutory requirements.  Make a list of those people you feel need to be involved and have a discussion with them what role each one will play.  Remember to apply confidentiality and discretion where appropriate.

Anyone not on this list, by the way, should not be included in any discussions, formal or informal.  This will help to manage the situation effectively and will ensure you are acting professionally.

You also want to consider the best location and timing for this conversation.  Will you surprise the other person with an invitation to ‘step in to this office’?  Or will you consider what environment will be neutral and conducive for having an authentic conversation geared towards a positive outcome for all?

We simply love Stephen R Covey’s 7 Habits and recommend that you practice them in your planning and preparation. 

Begin with the end in mind – what do you want to have happen as a result of this conversation?  How do you want to feel?  How do you want the other person to feel?

Write this down – you will be surprised at the difference it makes to your approach.

Expect ‘human-ness’ to show up – yours and anyone else’s who will be involved.  Humans are emotional beings, whose ability to be rational and logical can be clouded by emotions running amok.

Consider what emotional reactions are likely – from you and others – and plan how to manage your emotions and support others to do the same.

Step 4 – Decide What ‘Hat’ You Will Wear

It is worth considering what ‘hat’ you will wear.  What do I mean by that?  In your role, you wear many ‘hats’ – the hat of a friend to some co-workers, the hat of a planner and scheduler (if you are in a manager’s role, you are scheduling others and planning for completion of work tasks), if you interact with customers, you wear a ‘customer service rep’ hat.

Make a list of all the different aspects of your work, and what ‘hat’ you need to wear for each.

Difficult conversationsNow think about what ‘hat’ you need to wear to have this conversation.  And how you will ensure the other person is clear what hat you are wearing.  If we are not sure of what hat we are wearing, it will be confusing to those we interact with.  And we are likely to confound the matter by playing different roles.

Next, it is time to clarify what the issue is all about.   I mentioned earlier that our experience is that most of the difficult conversations people face relate to behaviour;  this can be related to a performance matter, it could be some form of disobedience, or it could even relate to a cultural issue. 

Gaining clarity with what you are dealing will go a great distance in achieving a successful outcome.

By now you are establishing a context, and you are probably able to see that the ‘other person’ has other qualities and characteristic outside of this context. 

Step 5 – Plan the Conversation Flow / Process

You are also seeing that an effective strategy involves some brain power!

Describe how you will build and maintain rapport with those involved in the conversation – how can you start the conversation so that people are comfortable and not feeling trapped?  How will you maintain rapport?  If one or more of you are defensive, emotions will further distort perceptions and reduce the chances of reaching an amicable resolution.

Get creative in your thinking with this one – don’t limit yourself with your filters or negative thoughts about the other person.

You need to make sure you have evidence – or something that supports your conversation.   You want to be assured that what you are bringing to this conversation will help you adequately describe what is happening or what needs to change.  The more neutral that supporting evidence is, the more likely the other person will be able to accept it.

Points to consider when gathering and presenting support for your conversation include: what can be shared or disclosed? Is what you are presenting fact, or opinion, or both?

With Step 5,  there are a few factors to consider.

Even by sitting down and taking Steps 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 you are well and truly on the path to creating a practical plan. 

If you can spend 10-15 minutes on Steps 3, 4 & 5 you will notice how much more confidence you have about your ability to have a challenging conversation.  I hope you recognise you really do play an important role in the conversation!

Good luck!

Next, I will share with you the final steps to having difficult conversations with confidence and success…..

The information contained in this blog is sourced from our SAYING THE UNSAYABLE one day training course.

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