Most challenging conversations are more effective when we take the time to prepare for them. I’d like to suggest five things you can do to be better prepared to guide your next challenging conversation to a successful outcome.
Gather the relevant information.
First of all, collect the relevant information pertaining to the topic of the conversation—the who, what, and why. Ask yourself:
- Who do I need to talk to?
- What is the problem?
- Why might this problem be occurring?
Envision the desired outcome.
Imagine the best possible outcome. If the conversation goes well, what will be the result? Be specific as you visualize this. Being keenly aware of your intentions will make preparation easier—and keeping those intentions in mind will guide the conversation in the direction you want it to go.
Anticipate the other person’s reactions and your response.
Think about ways the other person might react to the conversation to guard against the possibility of being blindsided by their words or actions. If you have considered their probable reactions and determined how you will best respond , you will be ahead of the game. Remember, though, that you can’t predict every reaction—even from someone you know well.
Pay attention to logistical issues.
The environment surrounding a difficult conversation can affect its outcome. A bit of forethought and preparation can have a significant positive impact. Here are some best practices for handling the logistics of the conversation.
- Schedule more than enough time – 30 minutes more than you expect.
- Hold the conversation in a private, safe, neutral location if possible.
- Make sure you will not be interrupted.
- Turn all phones and devices off.
- Have tissue available if tears are a possibility.
- Have a glass or bottle of water handy.
- If the conversation is with a direct report, be prepared to give the person the rest of the day off if needed—and do not have the conversation at the end of the day on Friday.
Decide if the conversation is worth having.
Note that I put the decision about actually having the conversation last. Sometimes you find that the conversation itself is not as important as the deliberations you went through to prepare for it. What you really needed was to sort out your own thoughts and feelings. After all of your preparation, if you determine that you don’t need to have the conversation, you will lose nothing by changing your mind.
What other ideas do you have for preparing for challenging conversations?
About the author:
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership. You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of each month.