When important things are not right, set aside proper time and place to conduct a calm, focused conversation. Opening remarks to such a conversation are often something akin to the following: 

  • “I need to discuss something with you that is bothering me.”
  • “I need some help with something.”
  • “We need to solve this.”

Some helpful hints when conducting these types of crucial conversations include:

  • Allow all participants to feel safe to express their opinions and ensure all involved have had the chance to add necessary facts, insights, observations, and other input to the decision-making process.
  • Stick to the facts during a crucial conversation. Be careful to sort fact from fiction. Bring the conversation back to the facts to help keep a dialogue on track.
  • Encourage an open dialogue. Set the example. 
  • Find a mutual or collective purpose. Demonstrate a respect for common interests and values.
  • Be curious. Ask questions and find out why they are feeling the way they are. Be sincere when trying to get to the source of their anger or denial. In other words, ‘When people become furious, become curious.’ 
  • What we say and how we say it matters. Avoid sarcasm, bad humor, or negative body language—not productive.
  • Communication is seldom perfect. There is often a gap between what we say, what we mean, and how someone else perceives what was said. When engaging in a crucial conversation, blend confidence with humility. Be confident enough to state facts and reasoning, but humble and open enough to accept a challenge.
  • Avoid the notion of choosing between oversimplified options. Examine alternate options that might meet all required criteria and achieve the desired goals.
  • Ask others to share their facts and their stories. Be a skilled listener by…
    • Asking clarifying questions to gain understanding
    • Repeating back what you have heard to verify understanding
    • Agreeing demonstrably when you reach areas of agreement 
    • Build upon areas of agreement; make comparisons in approaches when and where differences exist 
  • Be vigilant with self-monitoring. Make sure to frequently step out of the discussion and evaluate your own actions and reactions. Evaluate how others are reacting to you and adjust your behavior to return to the common goal.

In addition to the above, here are some useful questions that can help either advance and/or unstick an otherwise constructive conversation: 

  • “Tell me why you think that?”
  • “How do we know that is true?”
  • “What do we think would be the impact of that?”
  • “In what ways is option A different than option B?”

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