7 Steps to Tackle Tough Conversations

Dreading that difficult conversation you need to have? Perhaps you hate conflict and would rather avoid it than face it. Or maybe you relish a good fight and worry that you’ll do more damage than is necessary. Today we’ll talk about an easy-to-follow conversation framework that will lead to better results and better relationships.

Throughout our careers we will face situations that require challenging or uncomfortable conversations. With our own managers, colleagues, or employees (same goes for our personal lives too). Whatever your natural tendency, here is a 7 step framework for those tough conversations. I’ve used this for the last four years and it’s really helped me get my point across, without damaging the relationship (and in some cases, it’s enhanced it).

Here’s the framework:

1. Prepare – if its that important to you, rehearse what you’re going to say. Write it down! I’ve made the mistake of having a difficult dialogue with someone ‘off the cuff’ and it never ends well. I get flustered, off track, and forget important points. Preparation helps avoid all that.

2. Ask For Permission – the beginning of any conversation of magnitude should involve asking permission. A simple question to a colleague such as, “are you open to feedback?” or “can we talk?” signifies you are asking their permission to open a dialogue. Small and important gesture.

3. State Your Intent – ever speak with someone who dives right into a conversation and you have no idea what the intent is? It’s frustrating! Once you’ve asked the person for permission to talk, state your intention. For example, “Alex my intention of this conversation is to ensure a successful launch meeting for both of us this year.” Providing your goal helps the other person know what your angle is. Frame it positively. This is a crucial step that clears the air and removes mistaken assumptions.

4. What’s At Risk – here you share with the person what’s at stake if you don’t have the conversation and resolve the issue. “Alex, I’m concerned that if we don’t start sharing information more openly now, we risk being off strategy at the launch meeting.”

5. Own Your Role – arguably the most important step. Tough conversations can often result in the other person getting defensive as they perceive they’re being attacked. Owning your role in the issue helps a more honest dialogue take place. “Alex, my part in all this is that I didn’t come speak with you two months ago when I felt things were getting off track with us. I should’ve been more direct.” Alex will now likely take his guard down knowing that it’s not all his fault.

6. Give the Feedback – don’t sugarcoat it – people hate that shit. Be open. Provide feedback on the behaviour and impact. For example, “Alex, when you brush off my questions during team meetings, it makes me angry. You talk over me and push through the agenda without letting me finish. I feel like you devalue my contributions when you do this.”

7. Hear Them Out – ask them for their input, and then aim to find a solution. Ask for their suggestions to help solve the problem.

These conversations may not be fun, but they are so critical to strong relationships and results. It will be messy, and potentially bumpy along the way. Rarely will things be solved in one conversation. It takes time. Using this framework will help you be more comfortable (and in control) with difficult situations, and good solutions will emerge in the end.

Test it out and email me at info@iandaley.com with your results. Would love to hear from you!

Be great,
Ian

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