How to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation

how to prepare for a difficult conversation

Our personal and professional lives are filled with lots of daily communications. Sometimes the conversation that needs to take place may have high stakes, be emotionally charged or involve different opinions.

If you prepare for the difficult conversation before it takes place you will have better outcomes and move past the roadblock keeping your team or organization from producing results.

Before you enter into the conversation ask yourself what you hope to achieve from the discussion and what success would look like. Keep an open mind when you go into the discussion, there may be more to a specific topic than you realize. Unbundling the topic of conversation ahead of time can be a helpful exercise to understand the topic that really needs to be addressed. For example, let’s say an employee continuously sends requests for information last minute and you’re feeling like they don’t value or respect your time. Is the bigger issue with this example that the requests are last minute or that you don’t feel like your time is valued? If you only address the requests coming last minute it is likely that this situation will recur even though it may take the form of a new request. By tackling the issue of not feeling like your time is being respected you’re getting to the heart of why this discussion needs to take place and tackling the problem at its root.

Addressing the fundamental concern that is impacting the relationship may seem to be a more uncomfortable conversation to have, but it doesn’t have to be if you walk into the room knowing how you want to discuss the problem. Focus on the motivation you have behind wanting to have the conversation and think about how their motives may align with yours. When talking through a difficult topic and you feel the conversation slipping pull the conversation back to the motives for the conversation and how both of your motives can be aligned. For example, if you and a peer are disagreeing about the best way to handle a client refocus the conversation back to things that you both want like the client to be happy, to continue to be a client and to feel like you provide them with something of value. Putting the shared motives out on the table helps the conversation change to the best way to achieve what you both want from the conversation. If you don’t know what your motives are, don’t have the conversation until you’re sure. Without knowing the motives your conversation may result in you changing your mind later, not being able to have a meaningful discussion or to have your actions come across as insincere.