Managing difficult conversations

I’m frequently asked how best to deal with the hard conversations needed to address issues such as poor performance and unacceptable or thoughtless behavior.

One of the best frameworks I’ve come across is this one from Susan Scott’s book, “Fierce Conversations”. Details are in the Useful reading section.

She suggests the following as the components of your opening statement, a statement you should be able to make clearly and lucidly in under a minute.

1 Name the issue

2 Select a specific example (with day and time if possible) that illustrates the behaviour you want to change.

3 Describe your feelings about this issue – if it has disappointed you or made you angry, say so.

4 Clarify what is at stake. The words ‘ at stake’ are very powerful.

5 Acknowledge your personal contribution to this issue. Have you ignored it or let it pass without challenge in the past?

6 Indicate your wish to resolve the issue

Note that there is no preliminary sweetener in here, no “Thanks for this, but…”.  Practice what you are going to say and practice it out loud. Doing it in your head isn’t good enough. It’s a bit like trying on a new jacket – you have to feel comfortable with it.

7 Ask the other person to respond.

Keep quiet, listen carefully and absorb what they say. Something along the lines of a question Susan Scott suggests, “I want to understand what’s happening from your perspective” should elicit a positive response, but keep them to the behaviour and don’t let them deflect you with excuses or get into personalities.

This should give you a basis on which to proceed to a point where you can agree actions to change. Once you have identified the necessary actions, be sure to agree them and put a time frame on them. Decide when you will follow up with the person, agree a date and time and stick to it.

Good luck!

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