As I was looking through questions for this column, I was struck by how many of them highlighted the need for conversations about problems or concerns. This isn't new — it's a common theme in the Outer Game portion of the typical column.
So what's the big deal? We all have conversations, right? We talk to people every day about myriad topics. Yet, conversations related to sensitive issues, differences of opinion or conflict remain a point of anxiety for many. For example, imagine a situation where you think to yourself, "I'll just have to talk to her." Maybe you're being left out of the loop with information you need. But you're afraid you'll come off as antagonistic, insecure or not a team player. Preparation can help, as can nimbleness in the moment … more about that later.
First, be clear on your objective for the conversation. What behavior change are you seeking? If you can't articulate it, you won't achieve a shared expectation. If you say, "Do your share," there's ambiguity. If you say, "Get items 1, 2 and 5 on the project plan done on time," it's crystal clear.
As you think through the upcoming conversation, remember to use "I" statements so that you're not putting the other person on the defensive. Think about the likely responses from the person you'll be talking to, and plan your comments to accommodate their style.
If you're really uncomfortable, get some practice. Just as if you were giving a presentation, get in front of a mirror and say the words out loud. Even better, get a friend to practice with you. Practice it with the conversation going well, but also see what it's like to get heavy pushback.
Now the time has come. What do you do if it just isn't going well? This happens, and it's not the end of the world. Maybe your delivery is coming off all wrong. Stop — and be transparent. Try telling the other person, "this is coming out all wrong … let me try again." This bit of humanity may help get them more on your side. Maybe they're getting angry. Instead of being intimidated or upset, try being curious. Asking, "What is it about what I've said that is making you mad" could open up a whole new level of discourse. Stay flexible, go with the conversation, and don't get too hung up on whether it's going right. The point is that you're talking about important things.
End the conversation on a positive note, thanking the other person for their engagement, even if you need to also acknowledge that it was a tough conversation. Then learn from it. What worked? What would you do differently next time?
Keep in mind that this is just another skill, and there are resources that can help you. Watch people you know who are effective, even learn from people in novels or movies. Seek out training resources at work or online, or find books about communication.
This isn't just a work skill. As you become a more accomplished communicator, you'll see professional benefits, but it'll also carry over to improve other aspects of your life. It's worth the effort.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com.