6 Steps to a Positive Conversation
- Gather all the information. It’s important to have first hand familiarity with all the factors involved. Don't rely on hearsay. Be sure that you directly observe the difficult behavior. That will help you get a better perspective and will influence how you proceed.
- Think about things from the other person’s perspective. Now that you’ve gathered the information, think: if you were in that person’s shoes, how would you have handled it? How would you have behaved? Are there reasons that created the situation that could have been avoided?
- Prepare what you will say. Choose words that are neutral, non-blaming. Describe specific behaviors that you observed and their impact on your and others. "I noticed during the meeting you only interacted when you were directly addressed (behavior). When you don't interact, we don't benefit from your expertise (impact)." Ask the person’s perspective—do they agree with your observations? Try to anticipate concerns and address them with clarity and respect.
- Ask for possible changes in behavior to improve the impact: "What do you think you could do to be sure we benefit from your expertise during meetings?" Be prepared to listen and respond specifically to what the person says, but have some ideas already prepared so that you can adjust as necessary. You don’t want to be caught without suggestions or solutions, but be ready to be flexible, based on the conversation. Based on the conversation create an action plan.
- Hold the conversation in a neutral place. Often times having the conversation in the office can be intimidating. Taking the person out to lunch or talking during a car drive can set a person more at ease.
- Prepare for follow-up. Ask when it would be good to re-visit. Be ready to come up with ideas together to prevent the situation from arising in the future.
An article in Psychology Today suggested an interesting exercise that may help in some situations. When first beginning to prepare for the discussion, write a letter to the person that you will not send. Write down all your thoughts without censoring yourself (I’m not suggesting cursing in your letter! What I mean is, write what you’re really thinking and feeling). Then pretend you’re the other person receiving it. Pretend you have that person’s personality and experiences, and try to imagine how that person would react. Really try to empathize. Then write a letter back to yourself as that person. Receive the letter, and see how it may change your perspective, your feelings, and your response. Then write another reply to the person, with whatever changes in perspective you may have. By this time, hopefully any strong emotions have been curbed and you can address the issue with more sensitivity to the other person. Then begin the five steps I listed.
Never allow someone else’s weakness or failure to cause you to be something other than the good person you are.
When It Doesn’t Work
Most of the time, these steps will take the fear and the discomfort out of the conversation and make it a positive tool for growth in business and in relationships. On rare occasions, the other person is unwilling to see or to change. If this is the case in business, you may have to address the problem to a higher level of management. Be sure to document everything and remain charitable and factual. Never allow someone else’s weakness or failure to cause you to be something other than the good person you are. For personal relationships, talk to a third party for more specific advice. Please don’t allow yourself to be mistreated.
One more point: Avoiding difficult conversations doesn’t just harm that person. It harms you, too. It can limit your success in business and your happiness in life if you allow fear of hurting someone or fear of getting yelled at or any other fear to dominate your actions. Reject the fear. Find a healthy solution. Let me know if I can help.
This is Lisa B. Marshall helping you to lead and influence. If you'd like to learn more about compelling communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview, and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk. As always, your success is my business.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.