The most difficult conversations that we need to have often fill us with anxiety and angst. The possibility of conflict or anger can give us knots in our stomach. Yet, the most difficult conversations are often the most important and most people can learn how to navigate them. This is what I have learned about that navigation.

First, it is important to separate our relationship (good or bad) with the individual we are talking to from the issue at hand. Issues are neutral, just what currently is and it is the issue that we want to focus on. This takes it out of the realm of relationship and focuses the conversation where it really belongs.

Second, It is important to be clear on what issue(s) one is going to address. Clarity in these conversations is very important. Rather than beating around the bush it is important to clearly state the issue in a definitive way. "My concerns are that you are not paying attention to the team you are leading which is causing conflict among team members," for example. Before you talk, be sure that you can clearly articulate what your concerns are and that we have thought through how you will present the concerns in a way that will be clearly understood.

Third, manage your emotions. This is not always easy but to the extent that one can have a conversation around issues without it becoming emotional on your part you are far more likely to have a productive conversation. Emotions elevate the tension in the room while keeping them under control brings the tension down. The one we are talking to may get emotional but our job is to keep our emotions under control.

Fourth, state facts as you see them but do not go to motivations. We never truly know motivations and even if we suspect they are problematic it is best to keep to facts. When addressing things that you suspect to be true but don't know say something like, "My perception is that you do not enjoy leading a team which is why you have not paid it proper attention, is that correct?" This gets at the issue but avoids making a definitive statement that may or may not be true and it invites a response which should lead to a dialogue.

Fifth, invite a response. You might say, "These are the issues that concern me, how do you see it?" This allows a conversation to begin which can lead to some kind of clarity through the next strategy.

Sixth, ask questions, listen carefully and don't interrupt. Questions invite exploration of the issues at hand. Listening shows respect - and it may take some patience. If you don't agree with the perspective of the other individual don't debate them, Rather, simply restate how you see it. Unhealthy individuals will often try to rope you in to a debate because they can manipulate through wearing you down. Don't go there. Simply restate what you believe to be true. One interesting question to ask is, "If you were in my shoes, how would you handle this?"

Seven, ask them to think through your concerns and that you desire a further conversation to bring the issue to resolution. If you have already thought through the options you are willing to put on the table state these clearly. Don't beat around the bush, just clearly state the options you see as possible. If what you want is a resignation, make the options as unattractive as possible.

If I could name one thing that is absolutely critical in these conversations it is maximum clarity. We often fail to be absolutely clear out of fear but clarity is what the other party needs if there is going to be resolution. Ambiguity on our part invites an ambiguous response.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.
  • Feb 07, 2015
  • Category: News
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