We all have them from time to time, and often the anticipation of a difficult conversation is worse than the conversation itself. There are several things you can do to prepare for it that will not only help the conversation go smoothly, but will give you more confidence to have it in the first place.
Firstly, question your assumption that it will be difficult. You may well be right, but why? Are you making assumptions about the other person’s position, their situation, and how they will respond?
Quite probably, so prepare some questions to validate your assumptions or not. Who knows – it might provide some information you are not aware of, and you don’t need to go straight to the issue. Test your ground first.
Secondly, make sure you are clear on your objective for the conversation. What do you want the outcome to be? Are you sure you are looking for a win/win solution? If it is a binary win/lose situation – how can you get your desired result and still allow the other party to save face?
Plan out how you would like the conversation to go, predict possible responses, and how you will react. Think about what you will do if you get an unexpected response. Will you pursue the conversation or take time out to consider it?
Think about the words you will use to tackle the difficult subject. The wrong words could be incendiary, the right words could lead to agreement.
Do you have a solution that you want to put forward? How will you describe this in a way that is most likely to be accepted?
Finally, how will you keep your emotions under control during the conversation, regardless of how the other person reacts? What are the triggers that you need to watch for that would mean you lose control of the conversation? If emotions start to rise, how will you conclude the conversation and take a break?
In a professional or business context, it can be extremely useful, if not essential, to make sure you have separated any personal views from the business issue at hand. The problem may be extremely important to you personally, but if it is a business issue then treat it as such and have a professional conversation – ideally without emotions, egos, or politics.
My next blog post will give some tips on how to apply emotional intelligence to the conversation – being self aware of emotions, and managing them during the conversation.
About the author
Bill Mann is The Keep Calm Guy – Executive coach and mentor helping individuals, teams, and leaders make change with emotional intelligence.