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What to ask when the stakes are high

3 questions that could save your job, marriage or friendship
October 19, 2018
Written by
Rebecca Sharp
Read time:
4 minute read
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Image: trurating.com

When conversations get tough, it’s time to get methodical. I remember a few months ago someone asked a question that really stuck with me.

“Why is it that when we have to have a difficult conversation at work we really think about how we’re going to say it but when we have the same conversation at home, we go straight in there, all guns blazing and a lot of the time it ends in disaster.”

Well, while I think at work we do take a moment or two more to consider what we need to say, I’d say that we generally don’t even think about our intentions or how we’re going to say it.

Dr Stephen Covey says that everything has two creations with the first being the one in our head and the second being the actual creation. We can get things really wrong when we don’t spend enough time developing the first creation. In high stakes communication, this happens much more than it should.

Image: Stephan Covey www.franklincovey.com

I take nothing away from difficult conversations. They’re called difficult for a reason. Having said that, we’re certainly better off having the conversation than avoiding it altogether. I remember being absolutely prettified to have a conversation I knew I had to have. I put it off for months until I was reminded that all I was doing was prolonging my own misery. The person I needed to chat to had no idea the impact they were having on me and therefore was not at all put out by not chatting.

Answering these 3 questions ahead of time will help you to achieve great results.

Why have the conversation? (Intent)

Many times we’re pretty clear that we want to get something off our chest but quite often we’re not really clear why. Before doing anything, make sure you’re very clear on your intent.

Do you just want to unload? Is it that you want the satisfaction of pointing out “fault”? Do you want to correct a behaviour? There is a myriad of reasons to have a tough conversation however some are better than others. If your intent is negative, then having the conversation could be doing you — and your relationship — more harm than good.

Are your intentions positive? If not, consider whether you should be having the conversation at all?

Be honest with yourself here. It’s ok to want to scream and yell. It’s ok to want to tell someone exactly how you feel but consider what good comes from it. Generally none right. In the end, you’ll probably end up feeling worse than before you said it.

What needs to be said? (Content)

This is actually where we tend to focus our attention. What do I want to get out of the conversation? The biggest change most of us need to make when it comes to content is to ensure that we’re really clear on our key points and we stick to them in the moment of truth.

In any difficult conversation, you want to have no more than 2–3 key points. Any more than that and your message becomes cloudy. For each key point, you also want to know what your outcome needs to be. Be really clear on this and ensure that you’re communicating it effectively.

Honestly, I can’t stand seeing people use the sandwich technique.

How can I say it respectfully? (Delivery)

Unsplash on Mimi ThianImage:

This question is key. If you don’t think you can have the conversation respectfully then you need to go back to question 1. If your intent is positive then you have no reason not to have the conversation respectfully.

Don’t rush into any conversation. Take the time to plan your how.

I once received feedback from a manager about a mystery shopper score that was a little low. My manager obviously wanted me to ensure that my team were delivering exceptional service to our customers. What my manager did though, was spend 10 minutes telling me how “disappointed” he was and that I’d really let him down.

Consider what my reaction may have been to that feedback. I certainly didn’t walk away thinking of the improvements I needed to make. Instead, I walked away thinking about what an arse my manager was, and in the end, his feedback fell completely flat.

How often do you consider what you say from the perspective of the person you’re saying it to? If the answer is never, it might be time to give it a go.

The bottom line is this, the conversations you need to have won’t just suddenly go away if you stick your head in the sand. It takes bravery to stand up and stay what needs to be said. Taking a few minutes to prepare will ensure that both of you have the best chance of walking away with a great outcome.

Image: trurating.com

When conversations get tough, it’s time to get methodical. I remember a few months ago someone asked a question that really stuck with me.

“Why is it that when we have to have a difficult conversation at work we really think about how we’re going to say it but when we have the same conversation at home, we go straight in there, all guns blazing and a lot of the time it ends in disaster.”

Well, while I think at work we do take a moment or two more to consider what we need to say, I’d say that we generally don’t even think about our intentions or how we’re going to say it.

Dr Stephen Covey says that everything has two creations with the first being the one in our head and the second being the actual creation. We can get things really wrong when we don’t spend enough time developing the first creation. In high stakes communication, this happens much more than it should.

Image: Stephan Covey www.franklincovey.com

I take nothing away from difficult conversations. They’re called difficult for a reason. Having said that, we’re certainly better off having the conversation than avoiding it altogether. I remember being absolutely prettified to have a conversation I knew I had to have. I put it off for months until I was reminded that all I was doing was prolonging my own misery. The person I needed to chat to had no idea the impact they were having on me and therefore was not at all put out by not chatting.

Answering these 3 questions ahead of time will help you to achieve great results.

Why have the conversation? (Intent)

Many times we’re pretty clear that we want to get something off our chest but quite often we’re not really clear why. Before doing anything, make sure you’re very clear on your intent.

Do you just want to unload? Is it that you want the satisfaction of pointing out “fault”? Do you want to correct a behaviour? There is a myriad of reasons to have a tough conversation however some are better than others. If your intent is negative, then having the conversation could be doing you — and your relationship — more harm than good.

Are your intentions positive? If not, consider whether you should be having the conversation at all?

Be honest with yourself here. It’s ok to want to scream and yell. It’s ok to want to tell someone exactly how you feel but consider what good comes from it. Generally none right. In the end, you’ll probably end up feeling worse than before you said it.

What needs to be said? (Content)

This is actually where we tend to focus our attention. What do I want to get out of the conversation? The biggest change most of us need to make when it comes to content is to ensure that we’re really clear on our key points and we stick to them in the moment of truth.

In any difficult conversation, you want to have no more than 2–3 key points. Any more than that and your message becomes cloudy. For each key point, you also want to know what your outcome needs to be. Be really clear on this and ensure that you’re communicating it effectively.

Honestly, I can’t stand seeing people use the sandwich technique.

How can I say it respectfully? (Delivery)

Unsplash on Mimi ThianImage:

This question is key. If you don’t think you can have the conversation respectfully then you need to go back to question 1. If your intent is positive then you have no reason not to have the conversation respectfully.

Don’t rush into any conversation. Take the time to plan your how.

I once received feedback from a manager about a mystery shopper score that was a little low. My manager obviously wanted me to ensure that my team were delivering exceptional service to our customers. What my manager did though, was spend 10 minutes telling me how “disappointed” he was and that I’d really let him down.

Consider what my reaction may have been to that feedback. I certainly didn’t walk away thinking of the improvements I needed to make. Instead, I walked away thinking about what an arse my manager was, and in the end, his feedback fell completely flat.

How often do you consider what you say from the perspective of the person you’re saying it to? If the answer is never, it might be time to give it a go.

The bottom line is this, the conversations you need to have won’t just suddenly go away if you stick your head in the sand. It takes bravery to stand up and stay what needs to be said. Taking a few minutes to prepare will ensure that both of you have the best chance of walking away with a great outcome.

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About Bec

Rebecca Sharp is a lover of learning, driver of talent, passionate about people, and an advocate for lifelong learning. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.