Difficult conversations are inevitable in life. Whether you are having a conflict with a coworker or navigating a communication breakdown with a client, an impending confrontation stirs up a spectrum of emotions from anxiety to anger.
You can navigate this emotional minefield by having the right tools. Clear communication starts with preparation. Take the time to understand the nature of the conflict and determine what outcomes are acceptable to you before you begin. Planning out the conversation will provide you with a roadmap you can follow to a successful resolution.
Contemplate these five questions before your next hard conversation.
1. What is the specific behavior you have witnessed?
Identify what is troubling you. Whether it’s a set of behaviors or an individual one, being aware of the issue will allow you to stay on track during the conversation and not get derailed with auxiliary matters. This mental check ensures the problem you want to discuss is a behavior that they can change rather than an attribute of the person.
Separating the behavior from the person will create an objective mindset and shifts focus away from personal issues which may not pertain to your organization. Noting the specific behavior(s) will also help the other person identify the best problem-solving strategies for themselves as you progress forward after the conversation.
2. What has been the impact of the behavior?
Pinpoint how the behavior impacts yourself and your team. Understanding why the behavior is a problem will help you best communicate your concerns. Clearly articulating how a problem affects you turns anxiety into confidence and composure. In being mindful of your verbal and non-verbal communication when characterizing the impact of the behavior, you will create the space for a calm conversation.
3. What do you want to get out of the conversation?
Know your intentions. Are you prepared to actively work together or would you rather have a one-way conversation? Are you keeping the best interest of the customer or company in mind? Give yourself a reality check on your expectations. Think about your ideal solution and evaluate if it is realistic.
If your solution requires setting boundaries, are you willing to compromise on any? Effective boundary setting can be achievable and long-lasting if all parties are on the same page. Being aware of your own expectations is the first step to effectively implementing them.
4. What can be done differently in the future?
The past cannot be undone, but the future provides a place for new action. Think about ways to move forward positively. This proactive thinking will save you from repeating the same difficult conversation.
Think about what you and the other actors involved can do differently if a similar problem occurs, assess what behaviors need to be changed, and create a plan to change them. Show that you are prepared for the conversation and prepared to move forward beyond the conversation.
Feeling ready to continue the discussion will put you in the mindset to listen. Ensuring the other parties feel heard and included is essential to maintaining an amicable dialogue with any conflict.
5. When will you have a chance to follow up?
Always follow through. Checking in on progress is a vital part of the problem-solving process. Knowing the answer to this question will help you set clear expectations by determining what progress you would like to see and how fast you expect it. Prepare yourself for the next conversation in which you reassess and determine if the current strategy needs to be adapted. A follow-up conversation keeps the lines of communication open and reinforces good teamwork as well as collaborative problem-solving.
Preparing for hard conversations turns conflict into positive change. Practicing self-reflection before a challenging conversation creates an opportunity to grow your communication and teamwork skills while confidently advocating for yourself. These five questions will ground you emotionally and physically so that you can bolster effective communication in your organization.