Outcomes for a Difficult Conversation

In this post I’m going to explain how you can reduce the likelihood of provoking a defensive reaction in the opening part of your difficult conversation by having a clear outcome that unites the two of you.

When we think about having a difficult conversation with someone we can assume it’s to talk about something that’s happened in the past that’s left you feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with the outcome in some way.If that’s the context, which is normally the case, when we kick off the conversation we’re having to refer back to those events which will inevitably generate, at some level a sense of defensiveness.

Influence the direction of your difficult conversation

You can influence the way the conversation is heading by changing the frame at the start of the conversation. In order to do this, you need to be clear about your outcome. What do you want to be different as a result of having the conversation, for both you and them and for your relationship.

If your outcome is to, say, seek revenge or teach them a lesson or give them back some of their own medicine, then it’s unlikely to lead to a productive conversation. I say this because it would seem as if your intent is not entirely rooted in a place of curiosity and compassion and you’re assuming that the problem is entirely located with the other person. Also approaching the conversation with this mindset is likely to lead to an outcome that is a win for one of you and a loss for the other, it’s even possible that both of you will lose and miss a golden opportunity to learn and resolve your difficulties.

Getting clear in your mind about the outcomes you want from the conversation will help you focus on the issues that will move you closer to achieving those outcomes. So if one of your outcomes is to be included on important decisions that directly impact your department, say. Then it would make sense in your conversation to cite examples of decisions that have been made without your involvement along with the impact this behaviour has had or is having on performance or morale, let’s say. Part of that conversation would be about deciding what criteria determine whether decisions are important or not and at the end of the conversation you have reference point that will help you decide whether this outcome has been met or not.

Outcomes that unite not divide

Having an outcome that unites the two of you is also helpful to think through, for example, you might decide that you’d like to improve the quality of the conversations you have with your colleague and reduce future misunderstandings between you. Again, this outcome can serve as a reference point to help you keep the conversation on track and untie the both of you as you navigate your way through a difficult conversation.

So think through the outcomes you want from your difficult conversation. Orientate them in a positive light and find an outcome that can serve to unite the both of you in the adversity of a difficult conversation.

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