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Steps to Take Prior to Having That Difficult Conversation

You can’t avoid it – so plan for it!

One thing we all dread is having a difficult conversation. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, whether personal or business related, it just puts a knot in our stomachs!

First, take a deep breath! Pushing the blame around doesn’t help anyone and certainly does not solve the problem. And remember that there are two sides to every story – and they both likely have some accuracy to them. When I need to have a difficult conversation, I take these steps prior to meeting with the other person:

  1. Write down what I see as the problem and why I believe it is a problem – basically, what’s bothering me about the situation (this helps me to really get a grip on my feelings – it writing it either looks reasonable or doesn’t.)
  2. Write down what I believe the other person’s position is and how they may see me reacting to the issue. While certainly I can’t read someone else’s mind, it helps me to think about how they may approach the issue – I try to, effectively, put myself in their shoes.
  3. Either reach out in person, via phone or via email to the other person to ask if we might have a conversation to discuss xyz issue. I don’t want to surprise them. I tell them that I’m concerned about/need to resolve/or need their support in xyz issue and would like to set aside some time for us to talk.

When we get together, I explain my side of the story (no blame! – just from my perspective) and ask the individual his side of the story. Rarely have I talked to someone who didn’t see an issue – they see the issue also, just from a different perspective. I then ask how we might go about resolving the issue before us – let’s brainstorm possible solutions that will work for both of us. I do my best not to get emotional (writing it down beforehand as discussed above seems to help me get my emotions out and then out of the way!); but remember that emotions are part of any difficult conversation you have to have. Even with all that preparation I still get knots in my stomach; but at least the preparation help me to get much of it under control so I stay focused on resolving the issue that has to be resolved – because frankly, that is the most important thing.

I have had the time or two when an individual I was having a conversation with did not want to make a decision – and one had to be made. I have learned to be persistent, but polite and patient, to ensure a decision gets made.

I have also, on many occasions, role played with someone a difficult conversation I have to have. It helps me to run it through beforehand (although we all know when I actually have the conversation there will be differences!) – but still, it does help me to get my own feelings and  emotions under control.
Well…that’s my thoughts and tips for you. Hope it helps when you have to have a difficult conversation with someone.

One last thing – I’d suggest you purchase and read the book, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, of the Harvard Negotiation Project. A great resource to keep on hand for those difficult conversations! I learned a lot on how to manage difficult conversations with this book!

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