There can be conversations and then tough conversations. Here are four tips in preparation for the “tough conversations” category.

1) If you’re calling it a tough conversation (or conflict, debate, or triage….) is literally making you feel crummy about what you need to do, call it something different.  You need to change what it feels like because your label is encouraging a negative feeling for you, which is impacting your approach from the start. How about dialogue, conversation, or talk through? 

2) Set the stage with parameters:  Before approaching the person for this conversation, be clear on what the conversationobjective is.  If John continues to submitwork that is not at the level it needs to be, how are you starting the conversation?  Consider how to do this, then actually write the objective out to ensure it’s clear and it feels right.  For example: “John, The purpose for our conversation is to ensure that we’re agreed to what a finished project looks like, so that we consistently meet time lines and expectations. Do you agree with this objective?” You first share the objective with John, then check-in with a closed ended question, to ensure you’re both on the same page.

3) Be curious, versus right.  If you come into this conversation with the “I’m right, you’re wrong and I’m here to prove it” it’s not a conversation… and everyone loses. If you genuinely want to figure this out your approach must be through curiosity and not judgement.  You’re asking questions to learn about the other person’s perspective and to figure this out, together.  Let me recap this: you are curious, not judgemental.  You are asking them questions, not telling them (your answers).

4) Lastly, in any situation that’s not working, we’re typically good at figuring out what others are doing “wrong”.  First questionto ask yourself from here forward is “what have I done in this situation to cause this?”.  Yep.  Own what you’ve done first. It will make the rest of the process smoother.

Like anything we’re working to get better at, it’s about practise.  Use these tips as a check list both in preparation for your “tough conversations” as well after the conversation to critique how you handled it and assess what you could do better next time.

The conversations are worth having – they can make us all better.