How to Capture the Headline for Your Difficult Conversation

Every difficult conversation needs a destination point, this is focus and the heart of the conversation but it’s never as easy to identify as it sounds. The problem with not being clear about your issue is that you end up going down blind alleys and sometimes letting the other person off the hook. If you want a quick strategy to be clear on the purpose of your difficult conversation then read ahead.

Zero in on the thing that matters most

It’s normal for tensions or concerns to build up before we decide to raise them with someone. We make excuses on their behalf, find ways to justify their behaviour or say to ourselves I’ll wait until it’s the right time. So by the time we eventually get around to the difficult conversation, things have built up and you now have a catalogue of things you want to talk to them about.

One Issue at a Time

Don’t be tempted to produce a long list of grievances at the start of your difficult conversation just stick to one issue. If you find in the middle of the conversation that the other person want to discuss other issues with you, be firm and say you’re happy to talk about those but before you do you want to reach a resolution or outcome to this particular issue.

Visualise the End Point of Your Conversation

This strategy will help you articulate clearly the issue you want to talk about.  Imagine yourself coming to the end of the conversation with the other person, as you imagine this ask yourself any of these questions, whichever fits your situation the best;

What problem do I want solved?

What question do I want answered?

What outcome do I want reached?

Once you can visualise the end point, you just need to reverse-engineer it into a an outcome statement. For example;

Let’s say the problem I want solved is to make sure there’s always a supply of coffee, tea and fresh milk in the staff kitchen for everyone. So when I come to the end of my conversation I want to feel reassured that whenever I go to the staff kitchen I can make myself a coffee or tea at my leisure and so can others.

How has the other person contributed to this problem?

The piece that’s missing is the awkward bit, it’s the piece that connects the problem with the person you’re wanting to discuss it with. So to be clear about this try asking yourself the following question.

What do I think is contributing to this problem/situation/dilemma?

To continue with the example.

I think my colleague is contributing to this because his team are the largest consumers of tea and coffee in the office and I’m not sure what expectations they have about when, who and how the supply will be maintained.

That’s it. All you need to do is to combine the both and there you have it a perfectly articulate and coherent purpose to your conversation.

“I’d like to talk about the how to maintain the supply of coffee, tea and fresh milk in the staff kitchen so that when I or others want to make ourselves a cup we’re not left disappointed and frustrated because the milk has run out. I want to raise this with you because I think you’re team are the biggest consumers of tea and coffee on this floor and I think they might be contributing to this problem.”

You OK to talk about that right now?

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