preparation is key for difficult conversations

Preparation is Key for Difficult Conversations

by | March 30, 2021

We can all think back to difficult conversations. Most of us have had dozens of them across professional, personal, and family relationships. When thinking about which of these conversations ended successfully, what factors come to mind?

For me, the answer is “preparation.” Preparation forces us to critically consider why the conversation will be difficult, how we wish to come across during that conversation, and what result we seek from the conversation.

Why will the conversation be difficult?

Discussions can be difficult for many reasons, but emotions come top-of-mind. The conversation will likely make someone feel bad. However, identifying the emotions you feel in advance will put you in a position to handle them. Similarly, anticipating the variety of emotional responses from the other participants will prepare you for a “conversation” with two sides. Try not to assume that you know how they’ll react, but prepare for different responses and how the conversation will flow based on these varied scenarios.

How you wish to come across.

Your role or position matters in these conversations – being a “boss” or “mother” or “friend” frames the discussion and the underlying emotions. For example, if you’re the “boss,” that will influence a conversation with a subordinate, whether it’s directly pertinent to the conversation or not. Preparation allows you to frame the relationship and how it factors into this particular discussion. You have an opportunity to set the stage.

What result you seek for the difficult conversation.

Understanding the goal or outcome is a critical success factor in turning a difficult conversation into a win. Many difficult conversations are not conversations at all – they consist of one side sharing their grievances and the other side defending themselves. A successful conversation should move toward a result, and objective points and action items help keep you on track.

Investing in this forethought will enable you to circle back to the conversation’s purpose and goals even when emotions run high or when the other party redirects the issue. You can refocus an emotional response or redirect on the end goal – and often walk out feeling that the conversation went better than expected because of the preparation you put in before.

Preparation is excellent for times when you’re the one leading difficult conversations. But, what about handling difficult conversations that come at you unexpectedly when you are unable to prepare? Preparation is still crucial so listen and then suggest finding a separate time to have the conversation when you’ve had an opportunity to consider their points. Not all difficult conversations allow you this opportunity but take it if you can. You want to avoid saying something you’ll later regret or end up wishing you’d said something different. Instead, time gives you a chance to prepare thoughtfully and come into the conversation ready to move it forward.

Successful conversations address the difficulty, acknowledge the relationships and emotions, and clearly outline the desired results.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general information. Do not view this article as legal advice. Talk with counsel familiar with your unique business needs before taking or refraining from any action.