7-steps to manage a difficult conversation

Whether you need to have a discussion with your manager or give advice to a friend, just the thought of some conversations may leave you feeling anxious and you may decide to avoid the subject altogether. Today, I’d like to share with you, a fairly simple 7-step method to manage difficult conversations.

Please consider the following:
A. What do you want to achieve by the end of the conversation for yourself and for the other party?

B. What do you really want? What are your feelings telling you about what you really want?

C. Why would smart, well-intentioned people be behaving in the way that they have been? Develop 3 hypotheses (use respect, empathy and curiosity).

Use the following 7 steps to structure the conversation. I have also included a completed example below:

Step 1. Name the issue. Give a neutral and concise description of the issue.

Step 2. Clarity – give a specific example of the issue.

(At this stage, you may need to break eye contact to stop the person interrupting you. If they still interrupt you, ask if they would kindly let you finish what you would like to say).

Step 3. State calmly how you feel about the issue. I feel ‘disappointed, annoyed, sad…..’ If you can substitute ‘I feel….’ with ‘I am…..’ you’re on the right track as this will prove that it’s a feeling.

Step 4. State why it matters…..’This matters because…’

Step 5.  Identify your own contribution to the problem.

Step 6. Reassure that you want to work with the person to resolve the issue.

Step 7. End with an open question.

Follow the steps and write down an issue of your own; then practice on someone as you may still need to work on your tone of voice and/or body language to achieve the best result.

Example:  Your statement should take under 60 seconds.

1. I would like to talk to you about the job application process in our company,

2. for example, the ‘senior’ position that was recently posted to the intranet.

3. I feel disappointed that this new position was posted without anyone in the department knowing that the job existed.

4. This matters because I would have liked to have applied for the position and the current way of doing things is perceived as unfair.

5. I understand that it’s my responsibility to manage my own career and therefore to keep an eye on job postings,

6. I would be happy to help build a new process so that everyone who is interested in new opportunities has a fair chance to apply.

7. What’s your take on this?

It may take a few test runs, to become comfortable with this process, but it’s one that has been found to work well.

Good luck!

Helen Martin is a coach and trainer and is based in London.

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