My first coach Scott knew the importance of difficult conversations. He told me my success as a leader would be impacted by the conversations I was having, not having and how I was having them. His advice was spot on. Having effective conversations is critical skill for every leader.
When I say effective conversations, I mean ones that generate a positive outcome. We may not get what we want, but we leave the conversation in a better space than not having it. One of the things that struck me with Scott’s advice was the concept of missing conversations. These are the ones we are not having. I am sure you can think of a handful of these. You know you need to have it, but for whatever reason you haven’t. Most commonly we fear generating a bad outcome and reason it’s better to avoid the conversation altogether.
Six steps to help you have difficult conversationS
Effective conversations is a learned skill. They don’t just happen and we can get better at them through practice. Here are six steps that will help you generate a positive outcome from difficult conversations.
- Set up the conversation. If we surprise someone requesting a conversation here and now, we have already made the conversation more difficult. They may be frustrated by the interruption or not ready for the conversation. Start by asking them to have a conversation at a future agreeable time and provide a brief context.
- Start the conversation by sharing your intention. It is important you explain the full context and what is in it for them. Let’s say you want to point out an annoying behavior. Explain you want to provide some insights to help them be more influential with others.
- Share your observation. Base it as much as possible on the facts. Separate the facts from your interpretation. For example, when I observe you do X, it makes me and others feel Y.
- Seek their perspective. Use active listening skills to seek to understand their perspective. Is it a blind spot for them? Are they aware and have a different interpretation?
- Agree on action. If there is agreement on the problem, discuss what can be done to help them resolve it. If there isn’t agreement on the problem, be willing to bring the conversation to a close. You may end up agreeing to disagree because you can’t force someone to change their mind.
- Close the conversation. Thank them for being open to the conversation. It may also be useful to ask them for feedback about how you approached the conversation.
We develop skill over time through practice. Start with a relatively easy, low risk conversation. Ask for feedback and don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the outcome you planned. Focus on learning and getting better.
What missing conversation will you start with?