Thank goodness most of our conversations tend to be easy and light; we answer a question or offer guidance to a colleague. However, as every leader knows, some conversations are necessary and feel hard or scary.
We might be delivering bad news or providing input to someone when it’s not welcome. Here are some suggested steps in holding an effective, forthcoming conversation. We might not want to rock the boat or we might be concerned about the person’s reaction. Or we might feel we just won’t be clear enough and the message won’t be understood.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a formula or easy-to-follow process for having the conversation, being clear, and doing it in a way that has the other person feel valued?
Below is an approach for being fully forthcoming while also leaving room for the other person’s point of view and coming to an agreement about next steps. The key here is establishing a space which feels safe and meets the person’s needs for certainty and importance.
Prior to the meeting, consider the following:
1. Your outcome: Become clear on what it is you want- is this a behavior change, is it just something you want the person to be aware of, is it a change in how you are treated. The more clear you can become on this the more likely you’ll be able to make the request in a way that can be understood.
2. What do you want for the other person? How do you want s/he to feel when the meeting is over? Do you want them to feel supported, confident, clearer, empowered… something else?
3. How do you want to show up; what part of your demeanor do you want to reflect (calm, confidence, clarity, kindness, support, openness, etc.)?
In the meeting
4. State your purpose- why we are meeting and ask permission. Of course, use your words, not mine. Say something like, ‘Thanks for getting together. I’d like to talk about how we are working together. Would that be OK with you?’
5. State your experience, IMPORTANT- this is what you have or are experiencing, no interpretation, no judgment. “I notice that when I’m getting ready to speak with our partners, you’ve asked me not to share too much. When that happens, I feel as if you don’t trust me or that I need to be micromanaged. I recognize that may not be the case, but I’m just reporting how it lands with me.’
6. Ask for the other person’s experience of this. ‘I’m wondering if you see it the same way. Can you share what you think about this?’ Typically a discussion will ensue in which you share your perspectives on the situation. Practice active listening and being curious.
7. Make your request. ‘I find I work best when I am forthcoming and transparent. That generally gets me the best outcomes. If I commit to keeping you in the loop, would you agree to allowing me to make decisions about what to share in these situations?’ No need to defend your request. Keep it as simple and straightforward as possible. The only detail necessary is to make your request as clear and understandable as possible. Wait for a response.
8. After you’ve discussed, repeat the commitment the person has made (if she’s made one) or confirm the core of what you’ve heard, ask for confirmation, ‘Did I get that right?’
9. Confirm any agreements about timing and logistics. Thank the person for being willing to talk about this.
This takes a bit of practice but generally results in a conversation in which both people feel heard and understood; the reason is the intention you’ve placed at the top around understanding the other person’s point of view from the very beginning. When we set out to understand, rather than to be right, we tend to make a lot more progress.