Why do we avoid crucial conversations? Typically, it’s because most of us avoid conflict. However, conflict only exists if we make the conversations personal.
It’s important to view each crucial conversation as an opportunity to better understand a problem and create a resolution. All of us have invisible forces that shape our lives, and some of these forces happen when we do not communicate. For example, we may like harmony and not want to stir the pot. All the while though, invisible forces like mistrust and resentment could be hard at work.
To help us better communicate with one another, here are 10 tips for handling disagreements and other high-stakes crucial conversations.
- Shift your mindset from seeing crucial conversations as a hurdle, to seeing them as a resource.
- Acknowledge that they can be awkward and even painful. Understand that the other person has not had time to process what is being addressed.
- Ask yourself 3 questions before getting involved in a crucial conversation to avoid the situation from becoming personal.
Where are we now?
Where are we going?
How would we like to get there?
- Learn to recognize emotional responses: When having a crucial conversation, you must be able to recognize when someone else is viewing this as conflict and taking the conversation personally and not as an opportunity for open dialogue. They could resort to blaming, defensiveness, stonewalling, and could even become contemptuous. If this happens, always revert back to addressing the 3 questions listed above.
- Don’t Delay: Stop delaying the crucial conversation. “See it, say it, solve it.” Yes, it can be uncomfortable. Yes, it may not go as well as you had hoped. What if they get mad at me? What if…, what if… what if? These “what if’s” could go on for days. It is not fair to the person, and it is not fair to you, to delay a crucial conversation. Those nasty, negative invisible forces could rear their ugly heads if concerns or issues are not addressed. Having a crucial conversation can result in mutual respect and create a mutual purpose to get you both on a path towards success.
- Do not ask “Why did you…?” During crucial conversations, the word “Why” can often be construed as one person building a case for why they are right and the other person is wrong, instead of trying to resolve the issue. Do your best to stick to the facts and ask questions such as, “What was happening to make this happen?”; “What was the root cause?”; “What is the impact?”; “How are you seeing this situation?”; and “What are the obstacles we must overcome?”
- Listen & Own your part: This is so simple. Your crucial conversation can become a genuine dialogue if you are receptive and respond with phrases such as, “I understand you are saying……, did I get that right?”
- Clarify Expectations: Articulate your expectations going forward and set objectives. Schedule a follow-up to discuss progress and success.
- Document in Writing: As a manager, if you are having a crucial conversation with a subordinate and feel that the problem is a performance issue and not a simple mistake, then you need to always document who, what, where, when, and why, as well as future expectations and possible consequences. The employee is free to document their statement on the same form. The form should be signed by both parties. One copy should be put in the employee’s HR file, and one copy should be given to the employee. The manager needs to schedule a follow-up in order discuss progress and success.